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Cardinals rout Cain and Giants

By Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

ST. LOUIS — The word has spread steadily in the past month through comments made in the Cardinals’ clubhouse and into the manager’s office. First, it was a description for what was missing. Later a veteran insisted it was time to demand it. Before this series against San Francisco, Mike Matheny said his club was winning because they had it.

There is, Matheny suggested, an “urgency” in his team’s play.

(PHOTO: St. Louis Cardinals’ Carlos Beltran receives congratulations from teammates in the dugout after hitting a lead-off home run in second inning action against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri, Monday, August 6, 2012.)

And Monday night’s game hinged on it.

That urgency, once sought, was readily apparent as the Cardinals exhausted San Francisco ace Matt Cain, manufactured a run to break a tie, and then rambled for an 8-2 victory against the Giants at Busch Stadium. It all started with an extra 90 feet.

With the score tied 2-2 in the sixth inning, Matt Holliday attempted to advance from second base on a fly ball to center fielder Angel Pagan. Holliday slid in head of the tag — but just barely, as the glove grazed the calf muscle on his right leg. That extra 90 feet put Holliday in position to score on David Freese’s sacrifice fly. That extra 90 feet broke a tie, sparked an inning and catapulted the Cardinals to their seventh consecutive home win.

That extra 90 feet was a unit of urgency.

Said infielder Daniel Descalso, “I just think with where we are standing-wise and with how many games we have left to play there is a sense that we have to keep playing the way we’re playing, with this intensity, this aggressiveness, in order to make a run. We can’t just sit back and let the game come to us. We have to take the game to the opposition. That (run by Holliday) was the good aggressive play we need.”

After Holliday’s run provided the lead, rookie Matt Carpenter chased Cain from the game with a two-run, pinch-hit single later in the sixth inning. Center fielder Jon Jay punctuated his four-hit evening with a two-run single that set the final score. Righty Jake Westbrook held the Giants to two runs in six innings, his 11th consecutive start with at least six innings.

The win was the Cardinals’ fourth consecutive and their 13th in the past 17 games. At 60-49, they are three games ahead of last year’s record after 109 games. The Giants (59-50) arrived at Busch leading the National League West and tied with the Cardinals in overall record.

In the new world order where a second wild-card berth is available to the postseason, there are no divisional walls to separate October contenders. The Cardinals gained a game directly from a rival for the wild-card spot even as they moved to six games behind the NL Central-leading Reds, who lost to Milwaukee.

The race is already everywhere.

“This is the home stretch to be playing like we are,” Carpenter said.

That is true in many ways. The Cardinals reached the All-Star break decidedly mediocre at home. A month ago, they were 21-20 at Busch with two fewer wins than lowly Houston had at Minute Maid Park. Since, the Cardinals have won 12 of their past 13 home games. The surge comes at a time when the Cardinals have plenty of games at Busch — including this four-game set against the Giants, 16 of 19 will be at home.

The second pitch Westbrook (11-8) delivered Monday was launched into the seats beyond right field by leadoff hitter Pagan. The Cardinals grabbed the lead with a home run from Carlos Beltran and an RBI single from Rafael Furcal — snapping and 0-for-14 skid — in the second. Westbrook carried the 2-1 lead into the sixth, retiring 14 of 17 Giants at one point. He then let a cutter catch too much of the plate for Buster Posey. The Giants’ catcher and cleanup hitter tied the score with his seventh home run and league-best 27th RBI since the break.

In the bottom of the inning, the Cardinals worked with what they had.

Holliday opened with a leadoff double off Cain. Beltran sent the fly ball to center and Holliday raced for the key base. Freese lined out to deep center for the sacrifice fly, the first of his two RBIs, and a few more pitches on Cain’s swelling workload.

“Sometimes you have to play that type of game,” Beltran said. “Move the guy over and get the guy in. I was able to get him over. Freese was able to hit the line drive to get him in. Those are good runs when you’re facing good pitchers.”

The Cardinals had already run Cain, the highest-paid righthander in the game, ragged. Of his first 84 pitches, the Cardinals fouled off 27. After consecutive two-out singles followed Freese’s sacrifice fly, Matheny sniffed an opportunity for more runs. Following the theme he’s encouraged — urgency — Matheny lifted Westbrook for pinch-hitter Carpenter. At that point, Cain (10-5) had already thrown his 100th pitch. Westbrook had finished his six innings on 79 pitches. Carpenter connected on Cain’s 114th pitch to score Yadier Molina and Jay for a 5-2 lead. The RBIs were Carpenter’s seventh and eighth as a pinch hitter, making him the first Cardinals rookie since 1950 with that many.

An intentional walk to Beltran led to the Cardinals’ three-run burst in the seventh. Jay concluded it with a two-run single at the end of his four-for-four game. Matheny agreed that the Cardinals’ ability to execute was the root of the win.

Urgency got it started.

The Cardinals say it’s how they intend to finish.

“I think it’s just us playing the way we think we’re capable of playing,” Westbrook said. “Put together good starts. Swing the bats. This is what we feel like we’re capable of doing.”

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