Wainwright rescues Cardinals again from losing streak, Molina homers in 5-4 win vs. Dodgers

By Derrick Goold

ST. LOUIS — When the Cardinals need something, something sturdy, something reliable, some gust beneath their wings to pull them from doldrums, it’s been the same tandem there to lift them for an era.

A day after their former teammate Albert Pujols hit a home run in his first at-bat of a rare homecoming to Busch Stadium, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, the greats who stayed, continued Wednesday the longest running two-man show on Clark Street. In their 301st start as a duo, Wainwright carried the Cardinals into the ninth inning — this time against one of the best teams in baseball — and Molina provided the bulk of the run support.

Molina’s two-run homer in the first inning staked Wainwright an early lead he shepherded, with some last-minute assistance, into a 5-4 victory at Busch Stadium.

Tyler O’Neill’s home run in the eighth inning proved helpful and gave some added cushion as Wainwright came two outs shy of his fourth complete game and turned the game over to Giovanny Gallegos with the go-ahead run at the plate. Gallegos retired the two batters he faced to maroon the tying run at first base and leave Pujols standing on deck. Gallegos cinched his fifth save. The two runs in the ninth went onto Wainwright’s pitching line but didn’t dent what he once again did for the Cardinals.

It was the 10th consecutive time when Wainwright has started the game after a loss that he pitched the Cardinals to a win.

He’s been a constant for a pitching staff at times in crisis.

With a sinker the Dodgers couldn’t connect and the ageless curveball they have known is coming for years and still cannot do anything with, Wainwright pitched into the ninth inning on just 93 pitches. He allowed three hits in the first inning and sidestepped trouble with a snappy couple of defensive plays. On a double by Corey Seager, Harrison Bader spun a throw to shortstop Edmundo Sosa, whose strike to the plate led to a slick tag by Molina to catch Mookie Betts before he touched home. That kept the Dodgers from a second run.

The inning ended when Will Smith lined a pitch back at Wainwright, and the Gold Glove pitcher coolly gloved it and then strode back to the dugout.

He retired the next 14 consecutive Dodgers, and only Cody Bellinger got the ball out of the infield in that span.

At one point, Wainwright worked so democratically through the Dodgers’ lineup that he got five consecutive groundouts and included at least one to every position in the field. When Pujols, getting an encore start for the Dodgers despite a right-hander on the mound, came up in the second inning, Wainwright started him with two curveballs. It was a fitting approach for their first meeting against each other in St. Louis since they were teammates and champions together in St. Louis. The at-bat ended when Pujols pulled an off-speed pitch to Nolan Arenado at third. The Cardinals’ infielder backhanded the ball and threw out Pujols.

Second baseman Tommy Edman fielded the next grounder.

First baseman Paul Goldschmidt got the next grounder and took it to the bag himself. And the next grounder — the first out of the fourth inning — went to Sosa at short.

The Cardinals answered the halted Dodgers rally in the top of the first with an unrestrained one of their own. Back-to-back singles opened the inning against starter Mitch White. Edman and Goldschmidt then completed a double steal to move into scoring position. Arenado tied the game with a groundout and his 91st RBI of the season. Molina followed a few pitches later with the home run that vaulted the Cardinals to a 3-1 lead. As he rounded first for his 10th home run of the season, it was not clear if he made eye contact with Pujols.

In seventh inning, Wainwright hit a fly ball to the deepest point of center field at Busch. The ball was caught for an out, but as Wainwright did a U-turn back to the dugout he was greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd.

One of the most impressive elements of Wainwright’s season is also one of the most telling ruts in the Cardinals’ summer.

He has been exceptional for the team when making a start after loss or coming into his start to end a losing streak.

They have also given him plenty of practice.

Eleven times this season Wainwright has made the start after a loss, and 10 of those have come in his past 17 starts. All of them crammed into the losing stretches the Cardinals have had since the start of June. Since June, Wainwright has started a game in which the Cardinals had a six-game and five-game losing streaks, and also three-game losing streaks twice. He entered Wednesday’s game against the Dodgers having to halt the Cardinals’ four-game losing streak.

In his previous 10 starts that came after a Cardinals loss, Wainwright was 7-1 with a 2.20 ERA. The Cardinals have won nine of those 10 starts. He’s averaged more than six innings per start to not only right the Cardinals record but comfort the bullpen, too.

Losing streak stemmed.

The same kind of plunging rollercoaster greeted Wainwright as he readied for the start against the Dodgers. The Cardinals had been schooled in their first two games against the defending World Series champions — the gap in style and level of play as apparent on the field as it became on the scoreboard. The Cardinals conjured a total of three runs against the Dodgers in the first two games of the series.

Only one scored on a base hit.

Another scored on a passed ball.

The third on a sacrifice fly.

The Cardinals offense had been overpowered by Max Scherzer on Monday and outmaneuvered by nine pitchers on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Dodgers hit four home runs on Tuesday, a day after taking scoring four runs in the first inning. The series had already been an undertow, tugging the Cardinals out of the wild-card mix — if only the other wild-card challengers would allow it to happen. The four-game losing streak had cost the Cardinals only a game in the wild-card race, dropping them to 3 1/2 games back. The real challenge is the three teams ahead of them for the National League’s second wild card.

One of those teams, Cincinnati, visits Busch Stadium this weekend, and the Cardinals have series against two other wild-card jumble teams, New York and San Diego, in the following week.

It’s the winding route but there is one back into that race for the Cardinals.

It would begin by having Wainwright extend winning streaks, not save them from losing streaks.

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