Battery leads Cards to sweep of Brewers
Wainwright, Molina both have career days in shutout win
MILWAUKEE -- With every game bigger than the last for the Cardinals, perhaps it's no coincidence that Yadier Molina's profile has likewise grown in recent days.
Molina continued a torrid August with the first two-home run game of his career, and helped guide Adam Wainwright to yet another brilliant performance, as the Cards wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Brewers on Thursday. Molina's two shots gave St. Louis an early three-run lead, and the visitors ended up beating the National League Central-leading Brew Crew, 8-0.
"Our stars were the pitcher and the catcher," said manager Tony La Russa.
The Redbirds, who have been as far as 10 1/2 games out of first place, now trail the Brewers by 2 1/2 and the Cubs by two. On July 27, they were nine back, but since then they've beaten Milwaukee six straight times. St. Louis' five-game winning streak overall is its longest of the year. The Redbirds are 7-1 in their last eight games and 8-2 in their last 10, each a season-best stretch.
Molina and Wainwright are probably both best known for their contributions in the same game -- Game 7 of last season's National League Championship Series. Molina hit the game-winning home run in the top of the ninth inning, and Wainwright cemented the big hit by pitching the bottom half for the save and the pennant.
On Thursday, the order was reversed but the stars were the same.
Molina hit a solo homer in the second inning, but Wainwright found himself walking a tightrope with that one-run lead in the third. After a pair of strikeouts, Gabe Gross doubled. Wainwright walked J.J. Hardy and Prince Fielder, bringing up Ryan Braun, at least arguably Milwaukee's most dangerous hitter.
The slugging third baseman worked a 2-2 count, and Wainwright missed with a curveball to make it 3-2. Braun fouled off another curveball with that count and the bases full. Then Wainwright broke off a splendid curveball, one that started inside and broke over the inside sliver of the plate. Braun was frozen, and the jam had been escaped.
"He's hitting .350 for a reason," Wainwright said. "He's got amazing hands up there. He can do a lot of things. I just wanted to make him beat me with my best stuff if he was going to do it. And if not, I was going to win. Right there, in that situation, with him up to bat, if he's going to beat me, he's going to beat me with my best stuff."
It was a show of confidence for Molina to call three straight curveballs, when one miss means a tie game. But the catcher never hesitated, never wavered in his faith in his hurler.
"I've got confidence in him because he's got a great curveball and he can throw it for strikes," Molina said. "Every time we get in that spot, I don't doubt to throw any pitch because I know he can throw it for strikes."
In the next half-inning, Molina capitalized on the escape. With two outs and a man on second, he turned on a Dave Bush pitch for his second homer of the game, making it 3-0. The Brewers were never again seriously in it.
"Yadier was really big for us today," said Wainwright. "He hit a tough pitcher today. Bush is a good pitcher and he pitched a great game. Yadier has proved in the past that in big games he comes through in the clutch."
The Cards hung five on a beleaguered Brewers bullpen in garbage time, depriving Jason Isringhausen of a save chance but allowing him to rest in advance of four games in Chicago.
Nonetheless, even at 3-0, the game felt like it was completely within St. Louis' hands. Wainwright controlled the contest completely, Ryan Franklin tossed a relatively easy eighth, and in the ninth, Troy Percival recorded a pair of strikeouts to close out the sweep.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.