Wainwright, Encarnacion secure win
Combo of pitching, homer and defense send D-backs to loss
ST.LOUIS -- The Cardinals clubhouse after Thursday night's game was a very happy place. The music was blaring, the jokes were flowing and the high-fives were being exchanged.
With their thrilling 3-2 win Thursday night, the Cardinals took three of four from a D-backs team that came to St. Louis nine games over .500. The Cards continued to inch closer to first-place Milwaukee, now sitting seven and a half games behind the Brewers.
"When you're under .500, that's the only way you're going to get better. You have to win series," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Otherwise, you're just treading water or moving backwards. It's important to move forward."
The manager then issued a caution.
"How important, will depend on this weekend," the manager said.
But Thursday night was the Cardinals' night. In every phase of the game -- pitching, defense and timely hitting, the Cards came through.
It didn't come without some drama, though.
Leading by one in the ninth, Jason Isringhausen came on for his second save in as many games. Isringhausen, who has allowed only one run at home this season -- and hasn't blown a save at Busch Stadium -- got into a little trouble in the final inning.
After retiring the first hitter, Isringhausen walked Conor Jackson. With Jackson on first, Stephen Drew ripped a double to the left-center field gap. Isringhausen caught a break as the ball skipped over the fence for a ground-rule double and Jackson had to stop at third.
After intentionally walking Mark Reynolds to load the bases, Isringhausen got catcher Miguel Montero to hit into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play -- the Cards' fifth double play of the night.
"What a thrilling way to win it," shortstop Brendan Ryan said. "Izzy got the ground ball, Aaron [Miles] flipped it to me, I got it over to Albert ([Pujols] as quickly as I could. Then, the crowd gets real loud and the game's over. Pretty cool stuff."
Isringhausen's timely double play came after starter Adam Wainwright got four double plays himself -- all to end innings.
Wainwright was dominant through the first seven innings, shutting out the D-backs and not allowing an extra-base hit. Whenever there was a runner on base, Wainwright got a ball on the ground and let the guys behind him go to work.
With his pitch count in the 80's, La Russa decided to send Wainwright out for the eighth inning. It turned out not to be the best idea.
Wainwright let up a leadoff double to Mark Reynolds and then walked Montero to put two runners on with no outs. La Russa then called on his bullpen and opted for lefty Randy Flores. Flores struck out pinch-hitter Scott Hairston before giving up a two-run triple to pinch-hitter Augie Ojeda. La Russa made another change, this time bringing in righty Russ Springer, with their normal eighth inning guy, Ryan Franklin, unavailable due to a lot of action lately.
Springer came through as he got Chris Young to pop out, and got Orlando Hudson to ground out to end the inning.
Although Wainwright couldn't get through the eighth, he did his job.
"Adam did a great job," Isringhausen said. "We talked about it yesterday. I told him if he gave us eight, we'd get the rest. He didn't quite get through eight, but he got there. When the starters can get six, seven, eight innings, it makes our job a lot easier. It usually works out for the best."
The Cards' lone offense came in the sixth inning. Ryan Ludwick started it with a double down the left-field line. After walking Pujols to put two runners on, Juan Encarnacion smashed a Doug Davis fastball 381 feet for a three-run home run.
For Encarnacion, it was his second big hit in the last two games. On Wednesday, he hit a game-tying double in the eighth, before the Cards went on to win.
"It makes it more exciting," Encarnacion said of the late-inning hits. "You know what can happen, as opposed to early in the game."
Encarnacion came into the game with nine hits in 19 at-bats against Davis, and continued his hot hitting with the homer in the sixth.
The attention after the game, though, was on the timely double plays and the stellar defense behind the pitchers all series long.
"When we don't play defense like that, it's strange and hard to figure," La Russa said. "We're a good defensive club, we were really good tonight."
With the series win, the Cards will now try and win three series' in a row for the first time since they did it last October, when they won the NLDS, the NLCS and, of course, the World Series.
Daniel Berk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.