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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Great outing spoiled by grand gaffe

Wainwright dominates Bucs until seventh-inning unraveling
ST. LOUIS -- Sometimes flirting with the baseball gods gets you into serious trouble. Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright felt the blunt end of that Monday night after throwing 6 1/3 innings of three-hit baseball, only to fall apart.

Falling to the Pirates, 5-4, at Busch Stadium, Wainwright surrendered a four-run lead in the seventh inning, and another superb start.

Through the first 3 1/3 innings, Wainwright threw no-hit baseball, and through the first 5 2/3 innings, he gave up only one hit. For awhile, it looked like he was going to do something special.

Then he pitched the seventh inning.

"I was probably cruising too much," Wainwright said.

With a 4-0 lead in the seventh, Wainwright retired Freddy Sanchez before the Pirates turned on the jets. Jason Bay doubled, and Xavier Nady and Jose Bautista walked, setting the stage for pinch-hitter Jason Michaels.

Michaels belted a first-pitch fastball and put it over the left-center-field fence, making it the Pirates' first pinch-hit grand slam since 2003.

After the game, a dejected Wainwright fielded questions from the media, agonizing over the fateful seventh.

"I feel like I've been kicked in the wrong place right now," Wainwright said.

Having unraveled in the seventh, Wainwright stepped out to pitch the eighth inning. Manager Tony La Russa elected not to go to his bullpen because it was Wainwright's game to lose.

For the first time all night, Wainwright allowed the leadoff batter to get on base when Nate McLouth singled. Jack Wilson grounded out to advance McLouth to second. With two outs, Bay gave his team the go-ahead run when he singled to score McLouth.

"I don't really know why that happened," Wainwright said. "The wheels completely came off. ... There really was no reason for it, and it was totally uncalled for. I just completely let my team down today."

Over the past year, Wainwright has pitched as well as the top aces in the league. For two innings Monday, he lost that edge. Up until that point, he was throwing some of the best baseball in his career.

Wainwright's dominance through the first half of the game cannot be overstated. Through the first five innings, he threw 46 pitches, 35 strikes, and faced the minimum number of batters into the top of the sixth.

Having won four of his previous six starts from his mound at Busch Stadium, Wainwright baffled hitter after hitter through the first 5 2/3 frames. It was almost as if he had picked up where he left off from his last start -- an eight-inning, three-hit gem.

"Through five innings you look up, and it's 51 pitches and we hadn't even put up a fight," Bay said. "He was in control of the game. I'm sure there was a point where some people were thinking that it's not looking good."

As bad as Wainwright's mistakes in the seventh and eighth were, the offense was unable to pick him up and give him any additional run support beyond the third inning.

La Russa has said throughout the year that one of the team's problems is its inability to add runs to its lead -- something that came back to bite the Cards on Monday.

The Cardinals only had four runners on base after the third inning, only one of which was in scoring position.

"We've done that before," La Russa said. "It's not a lack of trying. We add a run or two, it's a different game. We had innings to add them and kept making zeroes. That stung us again."

Rookie Joe Mather and slugger Albert Pujols led the offense for the Cardinals early in the game.

Mather singled in the first inning and Pujols doubled him home to make the score 1-0. Pujols later scored on a Ryan Ludwick single.

In the third, the offense kept on rolling. Aaron Miles led off with a double and Mather singled him home. A sacrifice fly from Ludwick that scored Mather made the score 4-0, and gave the Cardinals the early command of the game.

But as quickly as the offense exploded off Pirates starter Tom Gorzelanny, he settled down to limit St. Louis the rest of the way.

"The first and the third, we took advantage of some of the mistakes [Gorzelanny] made," Mather said. "Judging by the other innings, you've got to say he made his pitches."

Now 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs, the Cardinals will travel to Washington D.C. for a three-game series with the Nationals.

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