ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 23: Allen Craig #21 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates with Ryan Jackson #8 after scoring on a double by Matt Holliday #7 during a game against the Houston Astros at Busch Stadium on August 23, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
What a difference a series makes. Especially when that series is against the lowly Houston Astros. On Sunday, the Cardinals lost a 19-inning epic to the Pittsburgh Pirates, on of their chief rivals for a Wild Card berth. The extra-innings loss of the series' rubber match saw the Cardinals fall to two games back in the race for the National League's second Wild Card spot. The Pirates flew to San Diego and the Cards welcomed the last place Astros. In their respective post-marathon series, the Pirates were swept and the Redbirds were sweepers.
Fresh off his shiny new extension with St. Louis, Jake Westbrook took the ball for the hometown nine. After recording outs against the first two batters, Houston struck. Former Cardinals first-round draft pick Brett Wallace doubled to right and was then singled home by Ben Francisco for 1-0 visitor lead.
The Cardinals bats went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the first and, in the top of the second, the Astros touched Westbrook for more runs. The veteran righty beaned Scott Moore to leadoff the inning. A double by Fernando Martinez put runners at second and third with nobody out. A sacrifice fly to left field by the pitcher Dallas Keuchel made it 2-0. Jose Altuve singled in Houston's third run. After a visit from
Brad Derek Lilliquist, Westbrook was able to record three outs without further damage.
In the fourth inning, Martinez led off with a double. A sacrifice bunt by Keuchel pushed him to third, where Altuve scored him on a sacrifice fly. It was 4-0 Houston.
Then the Cardinals bats woke up. Even though Carlos Beltran was hitless on the day, he had perhaps the most important plate appearance. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth, Beltran worked a walk. Yadier Molina then smoked a ground-rule double. With runners on second and third, David Freese drove his seventeenth homer on the season over the right-center wall. Just like that, the game was 4-3.
In the top of the fifth, Francisco doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Moore. With the score 5-3, the Cardinals took their turn batting. Rafael Furcal singled to lead things off. Pinch-hitting for Westbrook, rookie Ryan Jackson collected his first professional hit on a grounder through the right side. With runners at first and second, manager Mike Matheny's bunt fetish against showed itself as he ordered Jon Jay to sacrifice bunt. Jay executed the bunt but the Walrus committed a throwing error. The bases were loaded with nobody out. Allen Craig singled in Furcal to make it a one-run contest. Matt Holliday rapped his thirtieth double to clear the bases and make it a 7-5 Cardinals lead. Molina then singled in Holliday to make it 8-5.
From there things got downright fraudulent. The flimflammers whacked hit after hit and plated run after run. What once felt like a looming loss was turned into a laugher. The Cardinals finished the game with 17 hits and 13 runs. The thrashing was so brutal that it is difficult to pick out an offensive star. Craig three hits and three RBI. Holliday had two hits and four ribbies. Freese wound up with four hits and three RBI.
It will be a happy flight to Cincy.
With the win, the Cardinals move to a full game ahead of the Pirates in the Wild Card standings and 7 1/2 games back of the Reds in the NL Central standings. The Reds play the Phillies yet tonight and the Braves play the NL West leading Giants. After the Cards' win, but before the Reds-Phillies or Braves-Giants final scores, here are the NL Wild Card standings: