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Cardinals turn to veteran leadership to snap losing streak at six with 8-2 victory
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Cardinals turn to veteran leadership to snap losing streak at six with 8-2 victory

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Cardinals host Cleveland

St. Louis Cardinals Tyler O'Neill hits a two run home run in the third inning against the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 at Busch Stadium. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

There were 3,905 reasons why the Cardinals would snap their losing streak at six games, longest in three years, Wednesday night.

In times of stress, teams often turn to their veteran leadership for answers. In the case of the Cardinals, they could rely on three players who had played 3,905 games, counting postseason, with the Cardinals and only the Cardinals.

And Yadier Molina (38 years old), Adam Wainwright (39) and Matt Carpenter (35), all of whom played in 2011 for the last Cardinals team to win a World Series title, largely took matters into their own hands Wednesday at Busch Stadium in a streak-snipping 8-2 decision over Cleveland.

Wainwright, who stumbled in the first when Cleveland scored two runs, then held the Indians hitless for 6 1/3 innings before leaving after the seventh. Wainwright also had his first hit of the season, a single, in 21 at-bats.

Molina, who had sat out 2 ½ games with a bruised left knee, ended a protracted first-inning at-bat with a bases-loaded walk, which netted the Cardinals’ first run. And Carpenter promptly made it an inning with a three-run, bases-loaded double.

A mammoth, 451-foot homer by Tyler O’Neill, who also contributed a diving catch in left field for Wainwright, added to the Cardinals’ lead in the third. In the seventh. O’Neill raised his home run distance for the night to 880 feet with a 429-foot shot to deep center after another veteran, Paul Goldschmidt (33), had hit a homer earlier in the inning.

The Cardinals, who had lost eight of nine, thus avoided falling back to the .500 mark for the first time since they were 12-12. And they also avoided dropping to .500 in interleague play history. They are 200-198 now.

Manager Mike Shildt, discussing the leadership virtues of that longtime Cardinals trio, plus Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado, said, “What’s done behind the scenes — done out of view from people — is done in a lot of different ways. But, the best way is right there out on that field.”

Converted reliever Jean Carlos Mejia of the Indians almost was out of the Cardinals’ first inning after Tommy Edman had opened with a double. Mejia induced Dylan Carlson to fly to center and fanned Goldschmidt. But Arenado coaxed a walk and speedy O’Neill legged out a tapper down the third-base line to fill the bases.

“I was scrappin’ that first at-bat,” said O’Neill.

Mejia got ahead of Molina at 1-2 but the Cardinals’ veteran worked a 10-pitch walk and worked over Mejia in the process.

Not only did Molina’s walk force home a run but it brought to the plate one of the game’s all-time greats at hitting with the bases loaded. Carpenter now is 30 for 61 (.492) with the bases filled and he has 91 RBIs after clearing the bases with his double into the right-field corner, with even a gimpy Molina hustling home from first to score.

Carpenter gave much of the credit for his hit to Molina and the at-bat he extended. “I think that was the at-bat that changed the whole momentum of the game, the whole outlook of the game. It set the tone,” he said. “I don’t come up to the plate in that situation if he didn’t have the at-bat that he had, fouling off all those pitches.

“Yadi just wore him down. So, he gets as much credit as I do for that hit. That was a really professional at-bat by a great player.”

Carpenter had eight hits in his past 21 at-bats after that double. Mejia was finished for the night.

“No one wants to feel like you’re not pulling your weight around,” said Carpenter. “It certainly feels good to be rewarded for the work that you’ve put in and have some things go your way. I never really lost confidence in my ability. The tide has turned a little here as of late.”

For certain, he hasn’t lost any confidence in his ability to hit with the bases loaded. “That particular spot suits my style of play,” he said. “I’ve always been a guy that takes his walks, work a pitcher and wait for my pitch.

“I’d be lying to you if I hadn’t heard in the last couple of years what my numbers are in that situation.”

Wainwright said, “We have never lost our expectations of what Matt can be. In 2018, he basically carried us on his back.”

When he came into the dugout after the Indians’ first, Wainwright told his teammates he wasn’t going to allow any more runs. He didn’t say he wasn’t going to allow any more hits ether but Carpenter said, “Nothing Adam does surprises me.

“Everybody knows the struggles we’ve had of late. Adam’s been doing what he did tonight for years. When you need somebody to go out and right the ship, if you will, there’s no better guy that I’ve played that’s going to take that full head-on like Adam Wainwright is.

“Looked like it was off to an ugly start but he settled back in and gave us just a great start, one we absolutely 100 percent had to have.”

In the previous six games, when the Cardinals led after only three of 54 innings — they led after nine of nine on Wednesday — only one starter had gone past the fourth inning. Wainwright had pitched seven innings in a loss to Cincinnati.

Wainwright (4-5) retired 20 of 21 men from the first through the seventh, with only Bradley Zimmer reaching base when he was nicked by a pitch in the fifth inning. Just three balls were hit out of the infield in that span against Wainwright, who walked no one and struck out six in a 95-pitch outing.

“He’s got that mentality of ‘I’m going to figure out a way to beat you,’” said Shildt. “Winners find solutions and that’s what Waino is.”

And yes, he had a hit. Counting five fruitless at-bats in the 2019 season, Wainwright actually was nothing for 25 before he singled up the middle in the fourth.

“I felt like I was 0 for a million,” said Wainwright. “It’s not been good. Everybody knows that I’ve been able to hit better than I’ve hit this year. I talk a lot of trash about hitting and when you don’t perform, that trash comes back around.”

Carpenter, though his average also has been subterranean this season, said he has enjoyed this season perhaps more than any of the 10 he’s been here for because he can help younger players.

“When you play long enough, it all comes full circle,” he said. “I was a young player at one time and I had a lot of veteran players that poured into me and kind of led me to the player I was able to become. Now I’m on the other side of that.”

“It’s funny. You never want to admit the fact that you’re old in this game. But it does happen and you embrace it—just being able to invest in some of these younger guys. Watching Tyler O’Neill do what he’s been able to do this year has been really fun to watch.”

O’Neill, who has 11 of his 15 homers since May 11, said it had been fun merely to “shake hands” again. “Big sigh of relief.”

And Shildt said, “When it was 2-0, it could have been, ‘Here we go again.’ But the guys said, ‘No, it doesn’t have to be here we go again. We’ve got to figure it out.’”

Rick Hummel

@cmshhummel on Twitter

rhummel@post-dispatch.com

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