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Jay’s double sparks Cardinals’ win over Dodgers

By Joe Strauss, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

LOS ANGELES — A week of disappointment behind them, the St. Louis Cardinals slogged through 12 innings Sunday afternoon to find a shiny sliver of redemption.

If a 2-5 road trip can end well, it happened in a taut 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers that was highlighted by center fielder Jon Jay’s tie-breaking double and a beleaguered bullpen’s six-inning stand.

A sputtering offense found a way to manufacture a three-run rally for the first time on the trip. A manager used to questions about close games gone awry explained his rationale for an aggressive decision that successfully challenged his opponent’s signature hitter.

Thrown into a September caldron, rookie Shelby Miller received his first major-league win in his third appearance.

“There is still a lot of baseball to play. I think we played this one like it was the last one,” said manager Mike Matheny. “I think we’ve got to go about it every game like that.”

Hours after blowing a ninth-inning lead and the last shard of their edge over the Dodgers, the Cardinals reclaimed a one-game lead in their pursuit of the National League’s last wild-card berth. Matheny had called it the season’s most important game Sunday morning. Infielder Daniel Descalso termed it “must win” Saturday night. Despite their jagged trip the Cardinals returned to St. Louis leading by only a half-game less than when they left.

“We’re still in first place (for the berth). We may not be playing our best ball because I think everyone would agree we can play better, but it’s still in our control,” said left fielder Matt Holliday.

The Cardinals now enter a softer portion of their schedule by facing the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs in their next nine games. The two division foes are a combined 81 games under .500.

“Every game is our most important game from here on out,” said Jay. “We know what’s at stake. We’ve been there before. We know what we have to do. It’s just a matter of doing it.”

The Cardinals added runs in the final inning when Holliday out-raced shortstop Hanley Ramirez’s stylish but tardy backhand flip to second base with the bases loaded.

Catcher Yadier Molina then worked a walk to complete the Cardinals’ biggest inning of the road swing.

The win also offered partial atonement for closer Jason Motte, who protected a three-run lead after surrendering three consecutive two-out hits during Saturday’s ninth-inning loss. A bullpen that had absorbed a 5.37 ERA this month gave up nothing this time.

“You can’t really put it together (better) than that,” Miller said.

“We’re at a time in the season where it does us no good to look at what happened yesterday. You only look at the present and at the future,” Molina said. “Today makes that easier to do.”

Reminded about his “biggest game” assertion, Matheny said afterward, “Tuesday’s going to be the same story. We’ve had so many games like this that ended up going the wrong way.

“You really can’t put an answer to it. So you keep fighting.”

The Cardinals scored two runs during a 30-pitch first inning against rookie Dodgers starter Stephen Fife. With the Dodgers bullpen already active, the visitors failed to follow through with runners at second and third and one out.

Matheny has waited for a big inning much of this month. At its best, his lineup feeds on vulnerability.

“We’ve worn out the term ‘get the big hit.’ We just needed somebody to step up. Jon had an uncharacteristic day for him up to that point. He came through with one of the biggest hits of our year,” Matheny said.

Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright worked six strong innings. His only mistakes occurred in the third inning when a leadoff walk of backup catcher Mark Teanor gave right fielder Andre Ethier the opportunity to crank a two-run, two-out home run on a down-and-in change-up.

Not getting a decision “didn’t really matter as long as we won that game,” Wainwright said. He later added, “If we lost today you run the risk of guys hanging their heads. I don’t think this group would do it but you run the risk.”

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly used a club-record 10 pitchers. His nine relievers covered the final seven frames.

Hamstrung by Edward Mujica’s heavy use and Mitchell Boggs’ back spasms, Matheny called upon rookie Trevor Rosenthal and Fernando Salas to hold a 2-2 game for two innings apiece.

Rosenthal took the loss Friday but gave a much more controlled appearance this time.

“It looked like he was extra amped. He was really letting it fly, jumping with his legs. He was lighting up the radar gun. But that’s not his game. His game is making pitches,” Matheny said. “To get him out there in another tight game and watch him come through was impressive.”

The game reached Miller after Matheny’s bold decision to intentionally walk two hitters in the 10th inning to create a bases-loaded situation for slumping center fielder Matt Kemp, last year’s runner-up to NL MVP Ryan Braun.

Salas slipped the jam by getting Kemp to extend for a low fastball that he lofted to center field.

“We went around the lefthander (Ethier) to get to him because he’s been struggling some,” Salas noted. “I made my pitch and we got the out. He gave me the chance. I did my job.”

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