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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Wainwright goes the distance for win

Schumaker delivers game-winning RBI single in the ninth
ST. LOUIS -- After 8 2/3 innings and 119 pitches, with two men on base and a dangerous hitter at the plate, Adam Wainwright finally found his pitch. It's probably one you've seen before.

For the crowning moment in what turned out to be the first complete-game win of his career, Adam Wainwright threw seven straight sliders to Hunter Pence in the top of the ninth inning on Saturday. The last one finally finished Pence off, and half an inning later, Skip Schumaker's one-out single brought home the decisive run in a 4-3 Cardinals win over the Astros.

Wainwright, establishing himself more clearly every week as the Cardinals' pro tempore ace, pitched his second Major League complete game. He saw a new high with 126 pitches thrown, but still finished it off in style. The at-bat recalled the final out of the 2006 World Series, when Wainwright dusted off Detroit's Brandon Inge with an all-slider at-bat to cinch the title.

"In that situation, I'm making him hit my pitch," Wainwright said. "I'm not giving in right there, trying to throw a strike, and all of a sudden he hits a gapper and two guys score. [I] can't take that chance. I was just going to make him hit my pitch, my location. And if he did it, tip my hat."

By his own admission, Wainwright was never quite right on Saturday. His command was shaky within the strike zone, a dangerous proposition for any pitcher, and it led to three home runs. Yet he didn't issue a walk until the ninth inning, and never allowed a hit with a runner on base.

He entered the ninth inning of a tie game already past the 100-pitch mark, but Wainwright seemed to be gaining some steam at that point. He got Kaz Matsui to fly out in a two-pitch plate appearance. He battled Miguel Tejada to a full count before Tejada grounded out for the second out.

With the middle of the order coming up, though, Wainwright decided that discretion was the better part of valor. He walked Lance Berkman on five pitches, choosing not to give in rather than to allow a third homer to the switch-hitter. He issued another walk to Carlos Lee, again staying well out of the hitting zone.

"Those are their two guys that can go deep in any situation -- Tejada also, if you think about it, but you can't walk all three of them," Wainwright said. "I was just trying to pitch them really tough, trying to make them hit my pitches. I didn't quite throw my pitches. I was kind of all over the place, but I missed out of the zone. Those two guys were not going to beat me in that situation. Berkman had already beaten me twice today, and it just wasn't going to happen again."

He was willing to walk Pence as well, but his sliders were good enough and close enough that the outfielder swung and missed at three of them. And with the tie preserved, the Cardinals offense got to the business of making sure their man got a win.

Brian Barton led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk against Dave Borkowski. Wainwright was unable to advance him with a bunt attempt, reaching first base on a force play instead. Brendan Ryan singled, putting men on first and second, and Schumaker's first hit of the game scored pinch-runner Cesar Izturis.

"I'm looking for a pitch to drive," Schumaker said. "I put a good swing on it. I'd been rolling over some balls lately and wearing [second baseman] Matsui out. I didn't want to hit it to him again, that's for sure. I was just trying to get a pitch out over the plate and it worked out for me."

Wainwright pitched the first Cardinals complete game of the year, allowing three runs and five hits while striking out six. The right-hander didn't issue a walk until Berkman and Lee drew free passes in the ninth. Wainwright outlasted Houston ace Roy Oswalt, who permitted three runs over six innings.

It was the second time in Wainwright's career that he gave up three home runs in a game. He also allowed three on June 7, 2007, against the Reds. More impressively, the game marked only the third time in Wainwright's career that he allowed even two homers in the same game.

St. Louis took an early lead with a three-run third inning. Albert Pujols hit a two-run double off Oswalt, and Troy Glaus added a sacrifice fly that gave the Cardinals a 3-1 advantage.

The game was briefly delayed in the top of the third inning when both benches and bullpens cleared. Half an inning after Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue was hit by a pitch, Wainwright threw behind Astros catcher Brad Ausmus with the first pitch of the third inning. Ausmus was clearly irritated and had words for the Cardinals. The exchange never escalated from verbal to physical, however.

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