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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ace gives Cards a sterling eight

Wainwright allows a lone run; Izturis hits a two-run triple
ST. LOUIS -- Adam Wainwright continues to make his case as one of the best pitchers in the bigs.

In his second year starting for the Cardinals, the 26-year-old tossed another gem -- an eight-inning, eight-strikeout masterpiece -- to lead his team to a 6-1 win over the Astros. It was the second such performance of the year for Wainwright against Houston; he threw a complete game victory on April 26.

"I think there are certain teams that you get kind of geared up for and mentally lock it in better," Wainwright said. "It's kind of a fault in me that I don't mentally lock it in like that against every team."

But on Wednesday, he certainly was locked in. Between the third and eighth innings, Wainwright retired 15 straight batters. He only gave up three hits, one of which was a solo shot to Ty Wigginton, on the picture-perfect night.

Manager Tony La Russa said it might not be Wainwright's best start of the year, but against a Spartan offense in Houston, La Russa was more than impressed.

"That was a very tough lineup and he made so many good pitches," La Russa said. "To shut them down as good as they're swinging, outstanding."

With a fastball averaging 90-92 miles per hour, Wainwright said his command of that pitch enabled him to have such success.

"It's a shame I can't command my stuff every time like that," Wainwright said.

Yadier Molina said it was not just the fastball that put Wainwright in great position.

"He's one of those pitchers where he can throw any pitch for a strike," Molina said. "He's got that slider, it's nasty. He's got one of the best sliders in the league. He's got a big curveball, one of the best curveballs in the league. He's got a great sinker -- he's got everything.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the league, I can tell you that."

Wainwright's eight strikeouts tied a career high that he set on Aug. 16, 2007, and it was the first time this year he won consecutive starts.

Over the past 12 months, Wainwright has developed into one of the premier pitchers in either league. In 33 starts since May 28 of last year, he has accumulated a 15-10 record, 224 1/3 innings pitched, 152 strikeouts and only 64 walks. But it is his eye-popping 2.93 ERA -- second-best in the Majors during that time frame -- that stands out the most.

"That's what I expect of myself," Wainwright said. "I expect to be right there, whether it's No. 2 or top 10 or whatever ... That's where I need to be. That's where this team needs me to be, and that's where I expect to be."

Having an early cushion certainly helped Wainwright settle into his groove that lasted the whole night.

The offense manhandled Wandy Rodriguez, fresh off the disabled list and starting for the first time since April 19. Rodriguez allowed the first three batters of the game to get on base and then walked in a run with the bases loaded. Molina drove in another run with a groundout, and a wild pitch gave the Redbirds a 3-0 lead after the first inning.

"It was huge," Molina said. "Every time you got a game like last night, a tough game, tonight coming in the first inning with three runs, it makes you feel good."

From then on, Wainwright cruised. Cesar Izturis tripled in two runs in the fourth and Molina singled in another run in the fifth.

"We just played well," La Russa said, "but I guarantee you we got a little extra juice because of the way our starter pitched."

With the win, the Cardinals ended a two-game losing skid and stayed within one game of the Cubs in the standings.

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