Cardinals-Pirates: Wainwright Takes Over NL Win Lead

Brian McDowellCorrespondent IAugust 8, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 31:  Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on May 31, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

While covering a preseason Rams scrimmage, I managed to miss last night's tightly knit game between the Pittsburgh Pirates (45-65) and the St. Louis Cardinals (61-51), which featured a thrilling come-from-behind victory for the Cards.

Tonight's slightly less thrilling game saw the Redbirds almost blow a late inning lead, but the team still managed to squeeze out another victory, 5-3.

Even though the game itself seemed slightly lackluster, it was nice to see St. Louis get a much-needed win to secure their place at the top of the National League Central.

Starter Adam Wainwright dominated Pittsburgh's lineup full of newbies, picking up his 13th victory of the season, which now leads all National League pitchers.

He has essentially pitched himself into Cy Young consideration. Tonight, he pitched almost seven innings, and only allowed one run.

Then LaRussa went through a series of middle relievers who all did surprisingly fine until the ninth inning. The Cardinals were leading 5-1 when Jason Motte stepped on the mound.

He proceeded to walk rookie pinch hitter Steve Pearce. Then shortstop Ronny Cedeno smacked a home run over the left field wall, putting the Pirates within two runs. Luckily, Ryan Franklin came into the game and efficiently got the last out to earn the save.

Still, sloppy pitching like the kind Motte displayed could doom St. Louis down the stretch.

Matt Holliday continued to hit well in this game, going 2-for-5 and driving in the game's first run with a single. Then, in the sixth inning, Colby Rasmus, hitting second in the lineup, walked with the bases loaded, to earn a RBI.

This brought Albert Pujols to bat with the bases loaded, a situation that is every starting pitcher's worst nightmare. If I were an opposing pitcher faced with this scenario, I'd consider walking Pujols, on the theory that one run is better than four.

That is not the way the Pirates chose to deal with things, however—they went right at him. Under this challenge, Pujols deposited a double into left field, driving in all three baserunners and bringing his RBI total for the year to a league-leading 100.

This is the fastest that Pujols has ever gotten to this milestone in any of his nine years in the Major Leagues.

Truly, he is having the best season of his professional career and will win yet another well deserved MVP award.

The Cardinals' division rivals, the Cubs, also won tonight, but St. Louis is still ahead of the Central Division by one game.

This means that it is absolutely essential for them to beat the Pirates tomorrow afternoon, which would earn a sweep and greatly secure their fragile lead.