Sports

MLB Playoffs

Wainwright struggles, Giants shut out Cardinals in Game 1

By Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright prepares to throw against the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Oct. 11, 2014. (JEFF CURRY/USA Today)

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright prepares to throw against the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Oct. 11, 2014. (JEFF CURRY/USA Today)

ST. LOUIS - 

Adam Wainwright insisted he was OK. His manager believed he was OK. But the results keep adding up to “not OK,” with gusts up to “something is wrong.”

The St. Louis Cardinals ace pitcher has been nursing a sore elbow through these MLB playoffs but keeps claiming it’s having no impact on performance.

If that’s the case, after the San Francisco Giants won the opener of the National League Championship Series 3-0 Saturday, then Wainwright needs to figure out what’s going on after failing for the second time in a row this post-season to get out off the fifth inning.

Last week in the opener of the NL Division Series against the Dodgers, Wainwright was tagged for six runs on 11 hits over 4 1/3 innings. Saturday, he laboured badly against the Giants, touched for six hits, three walks and three runs (two earned), needing 98 pitches to get one more out than he got against the Dodgers. The Stats people counted just 24 fastballs among those 98 pitches and that’s a tip-off that Wainwright was just trying to get by on trickery.

Wainwright has now pitched exactly nine innings in his two playoff starts, allowed eight earned runs and thrown 200 pitches in the process.

Speaking of trickery, San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner kept the Cards guessing all night, limiting the hosts to just four singles, a walk and a hit batsman. He struck out seven over the course of 7 2/3 innings, allowing only three baserunners to get into scoring position.

He has now pitched 26 2/3 consecutive shutout playoff innings on the road, a major-league record. In four of his nine career post-season starts, he has pitched at least seven shutout innings.

“I found out about the record after the game and it’s pretty cool to have any kind of record but you know, there’s stats for everything nowadays,” said Bumgarner. “This just worked out for whatever reason. Maybe I’ve just had a little bit of extra luck on the road.”

The Giants don’t consider it luck, other than the fact it’s lucky they have Bumgarner on their side.

“You know, he’s a guy you want out there in a game like this,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He gave us everything we were asking him to give us. This guy is one of the great left-handers in the game and he got us off to a great start tonight.”

Sergio Romo got the last out of the eighth inning and closer Santiago Casilla swept the Cards away in the ninth to preserve the shutout.

With the victory, the Giants have now won 12 of their last 13 playoff games going back to 2012 and they extended their road playoff victory streak to seven games. The last time they lost a road playoff game was Game 4 of the 2012 NLCS.

Wainwright was on the mound for that 2012 St. Louis victory, but he didn’t last very long Saturday.

After he breezed through the first inning, the Giants sent eight men to the plate in the second, scored a pair of runs and were kicking themselves that they didn’t get more.

Pablo Sandoval doubled on a ball that right fielder Randal Grichuk had in his glove at the wall but couldn’t hold on to, Hunder Pence walked and Brandon Belt singled to load the bases. After Brandon Crawford struck out, Travis Ishikawa singled home the first run of the game. Another out later, Cards third baseman Matt Carpenter booted a grounder hit by Gregor Blanco to allow a second run to score. The Giants then left the bases loaded when Joe Panik bounced out to the pitcher.

“As you break down the game, if we hold onto that ball and we make two plays that we typically make, we’re looking at a zero-zero game,” said Cards manager Mike Matheny. “That’s pretty good, that’s giving us a chance. Our pitchers need help at times. I thought he did a nice job of fighting without his best stuff again. That’s consistent with what we’ve seen from him for many years now.”

In all Wainwright, normally coldly efficient, threw 36 pitches in the second inning. When he threw another 18 in the third, giving up a third run on a Belt sacrifice fly, he was already at 70 pitches. By the end of the fourth, he was at 84 and there was activity in the Cardinal bullpen.

After an uneventful fourth inning, Sandoval walked with one out in the top of the fifth. Pence hit into a fielder’s choice for the second out but when Belt walked, Matheny had seen enough. Reliever Marco Gonzales got out of the inning without further damage.

Problem for the Cardinals was that Bumgarner was cruising. He gave up a leadoff single to Carpenter in the first inning, then a second-inning single to Jon Jay and nothing more until Yadier Molina floated a soft liner just over shortstop Crawford’s glove for a single with one out in the seventh. Jay then hit a little bloop single into left field to put two St. Louis runners on base for the first time all night.

Bumgarner survived that mini-crisis by getting a groundout to first base from Kolten Wong and then a strikeout of pinch-hitter Tony Cruz to end the inning.

Wainwright’s mentor throughout his career has been Chris Carpenter, now retired, who would go to the mound even as his arm was hanging by a shred. Wainwright is a chip off the old block.

“(Carpenter) is such a warrior, and he taught me a lot about that,” said Wainwright. “His big message to me was you always have to find a way to get the job done. No matter what it is, no matter what you feel, you have to find a way to get the job done.

“And if you ask any pitcher in baseball, there are only a few starts where you feel amazing, ready to rock, nothing is bothering you from your head to your toes. The problem that I have is being way overblown.”

Well, maybe, at least in terms of his long-term health. But what about the health of the Cardinals in this playoff series? They now have only six potential games remaining in this series and they need to win four of them. Hats off to Wainwright for still taking the ball but, if he was not at his best, Matheny should have backed him off until later in the series and sent a healthy Lance Lynn out to start.


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