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Wainwright struggles again as error-prone Cardinals lose

By Joe Strauss, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

SAN FRANCISCO — The St. Louis Cardinals rolled into AT&T Park on Thursday morning dressed to kill. Unfortunately they played defense like it was casual Friday.

Three errors undermined an already difficult outing by starting pitcher Adam Wainwright in what ended as a 7-5 win by the San Francisco Giants before an announced crowd of 41,225.

Few saw the Cardinals arrive in a variety of formal wear that featured first baseman Lance Berkman in a pink tuxedo, rookie Matt Carpenter in a Pee Wee Herman look and one player in a kilt.

(PHOTO: San Francisco Giants closer Santiago Casilla celebrates a win 7-5 against the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California, on Thursday, May 17, 2012. )

All too many witnessed the Cardinals torpedo two leads with three errors that accounted for three unearned runs behind Wainwright.

“The errors give them extra outs and cause extra pitches. That definitely hurt,” manager Mike Matheny said. “That’s not the kind of defense we’ve been accustomed to seeing here and not the kind of defense we’re going to see the rest of the way.”

Wainwright took the loss. Separating his outing from its defensive framework was challenging as his pitch count prematurely escalated. He left after 5 2/3 innings, the second straight start in which he failed to reach six innings.

“I think he’s still close but not quite there,” Matheny said. “He’s going to grind his way through it. He had good enough stuff to give us a chance to win today. But I know there’s another gear there.”

Wainwright lowered his ERA to 5.77. Not yet 15 months removed from elbow ligament replacement surgery, he is still allowing an elevated number of hits and searching for a put-away pitch.

“It’s progressing. It’s going in the right direction. I still haven’t gotten a lucky break all year,” Wainwright said. “I will never have an excuse. And I don’t look at today as being unlucky. But I’m ready for things to start going my way. The more times I make more quality pitches more often those things seem to go my way.”

The last two weeks continue to exact a toll on his team as well.

The loss included an elbow injury to Kyle McClellan that forced the reliever from a two-run seventh inning. The Cardinals already carry two pitchers — Victor Marte and Eduardo Sanchez — who began the season at Class AAA Memphis. Thursday’s outcome suggested a third might be on the way.

Berkman orchestrated a dress-up day as a form of team bonding. A Power Ranger and a leprechaun could be found within the clubhouse. Others looked as if they’d saved their prom attire. But team defense failed to join the fashion statement.

Continuing their prolific first-inning ways, the Cardinals led Giants starter Matt Cain 2-0 before Wainwright threw his first pitch.

The visitors got a two-run home run from left fielder Matt Holliday to take a 4-3 lead after the Giants benefited from two poor defensive frames, including a two-run second inning that hinged on Berkman’s bobble of a leadoff grounder.

“We gave them extra outs. You can’t do that,” Berkman aid. “You score five runs in this ballpark you feel pretty good about your chances. But it didn’t work out.”

Neither side played the game with precision. Nine walks partly explained why the Giants stranded 10 runners. The Cardinals were 0 for seven with runners in scoring position. The game unraveled for good in the sixth inning when third baseman David Freese spiked a one-hop throw past first base on an otherwise routine two-out ground ball.

“I made a bad throw. It’s frustrating,” Freese said, adding, “We were out on the field way too long because of not making plays that should have been made.”

Freese’s error allowed first baseman Brandon Belt to score the go-ahead run. The gaffe occurred immediately after Matheny lifted Wainwright (2-5) from a 103-pitch start that included only two earned runs among the five assigned to him.

The lapses negated a late home run by catcher Yadier Molina, Carpenter’s three-hit day, Berkman’s two doubles and a pinpoint throw by center fielder Shane Robinson to complete a fifth-inning double play.

The Giants were the ones who entered the series with the reputation for slipshod defense. The Cardinals, conversely, had committed only 19 errors, the fewest in the major leagues through 37 games. Thursday, they tied their season high with three errors, each of which occurring in a Giants rally.

Making his third outfield start in arguably the league’s most difficult park, Carpenter bobbled a first-inning double, giving Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford an extra base. “Especially if you haven’t played out there before, this place is not an easy place to play, whether it’s left, right or center,” said Thursday’s second baseman, Skip Schumaker. “It’s a learning experience for him.”

Berkman bobbled a ground ball to lead off the second inning, allowing Emmanuel Burriss to reach base. The extra out became pivotal when Crawford reappeared to line a two-out, two-run single.

Wainwright’s two-out wild pitch had permitted one of the runs to reach scoring position.

Wainwright followed five walks from a May 12 start with four more in Thursday’s first three innings. He frequently worked behind in counts and needed 81 pitches to navigate the first four innings. A narrow strike zone and zaniness behind him also affected Wainwright’s performance.

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