By Joe Strauss, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –
ST. LOUIS — For the first time since 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals started a home game in 100-degree temperatures Friday.
By the sixth inning, conditions became even more uncomfortable for starting pitcher Adam Wainwright. Later on, they would become downright combustible.
The new-look Pittsburgh Pirates offered no give in what ended as a 14-5 rout before 45,382 at Busch Stadium. Sweltering conditions served as a backdrop for a game the Cardinals led through four innings only to be overwhelmed late.
A bothersome loss for Wainwright (6-8) also further exposed a bullpen that again offered more questions than answers.
“I’d say we had a rough night tonight,” understated manager Mike Matheny.
Confined to two runs and six hits through four innings, the last seven Pirates to face Wainwright reached him for five hits and a walk. Back-to-back home runs by shortstop Clint Barmes and pinch hitter Alex Presley to begin the sixth inning chased Wainwright.
The inundation didn’t stop until the Pirates had placed 12 baserunners in four innings against four relievers, all of whom were charged with at least two runs or allowed two inherited runners to score. Eduardo Sanchez and Marc Rzepczynski allowed the Pirates their third and fourth home runs and each reliever who appeared exited with a 6.00 ERA or higher.
The Pirates entered 15th in the league in average (.233) and runs (278) but scalding for the month. Friday’s breakout left the Pirates with a league-most 135 runs and 37 home runs in June. They delivered back-to-back home runs for a second straight game and scored seven runs with two outs.
The Pirates (41-35) tightened their grip on second place by sending the hosts to only their second loss in seven games.
Indeed, Matheny’s patience with Wainwright through a difficult fifth inning may have come under greater scrutiny if not for the chaos that ensued following his removal.
“It was kind of disappointing and very frustrating,” said Wainwright, whose season ERA climbed to 4.75 after a recent run of strong starts. “I just didn’t make pitches when I needed to. It seemed like a mixture of bad luck with some bad pitches.”
The turnaround marked the first time Wainwright suffered a loss after holding a three-run lead since June 2, 2008 — also against the Pirates.
The blowout also made a footnote of right fielder Carlos Beltran’s 2,000th career hit and a strong performance by first baseman Allen Craig, who accounted for a 5-2 lead against Pirates starter Kevin Correia (4-6) with a three-run home run after scoring the Cardinals’ first run following a second-inning double.
Left fielder Matt Holliday raised his average to .489 since June 16 while third baseman David Freese ran his hitting streak to eight games. However, the Cardinals produced only two of the game’s final 16 hits.
“They must be doing something right. They’re ahead of us in the standings,” Craig said.
Reminded of how Pirates relievers Brad Lincoln and Chris Resop contrasted the Cardinals’ shaky bullpen performance by allowing one hit in four innings, Craig noted, “There’s a lot left in the series. I think we have more to show as well.”
The Pirates kept the floor Friday, beginning with a three-run rally after two outs in the fifth inning. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez capped the threat with a bases-loaded double that fell between Beltran and the right-field line. Matheny said he saw little difference in his starter and never stirred the bullpen during the inning. Wainwright later characterized the flurry as a combination of skewed defense, bad luck and the inability to put away hitters.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen reached on a two-out infield single against a shift, something Wainwright admitted can serve as an irritant when a pitcher’s pitch goes for a hit.
First baseman Garrett Jones then extended the inning with a two-out grounder that deflected off a diving Freese’s glove. Wainwright then issued his only walk of the game to load the bases.
Alvarez, a certified Cardinal-killer who entered hitting .225 for the season but .353 in his last 11 games against the home club, then lofted his tying hit.
The bullpen didn’t stir until after the inning. “I thought he was fine,” Matheny said of his starter, who thought himself more vulnerable during a two-run first inning than the three-run fifth.
Wainwright then returned for the sixth, allowing a home run on his first pitch to Barmes and his fifth to Presley.
The Pirates would seem an easy mark for Wainwright, one of the division’s most dominant pitchers during the Pittsburghers’ recent reign of error. True, Friday’s loss left Wainwright a laudable career 8-4 against a team that last experienced a winning season in 1992. But seven earned runs in five-plus innings jacked Wainwright’s career ERA to 5.20 against them.
“It’s something I’ve actually thought about going in to seasons: What do you want to do this year? Well, I want to beat the Pirates. Maybe I should change it to I want to dominate the Pirates,” Wainwright said. “I seem to beat them a lot of times but they always put a crooked number on me.”
Crooked numbers proved the rule on a night that chased most of a sweltering crowd long before the ninth inning.
Fernando Salas worked the only hitless inning by a Cardinals hurler in the seventh only to return to a two-run eighth. Salas left a bases-loaded predicament to lefthanded rookie Sam Freeman, who allowed a pinch single and forced home a run with a walk.
Changing pitchers had little effect. Rzepczynski entered an 11-5 game and found himself on the wrong end of McCutchen’s 15th home run, a three-run shot that left the Pirates’ MVP candidate with four hits and four runs.