video thumbnail

Wainwright turns in another gem

ANAHEIM -- They were among the first words Edward Mujica heard upon his arrival to the organization last summer. In the midst of asking for scouting reports, the reliever who is now the Cardinals' closer was instead given a piece of advice: Follow Yadi.

Mujica had done so unwaveringly over the past 11 months, riding Yadier Molina's guidance en route to emerging as one of the league's most dominant closers this season. Not once, until Thursday, had he shaken the catcher off.

But Mujica's decision to twice stray from Molina's suggestion Thursday left the closer to second-guess his self-direction afterward, as the game-tying and game-winning hits both came off changeups that Molina had called to be fastballs. It thwarted the Cardinals' efforts to escape with a .500 road trip, instead leaving the team sagging with a 6-5 loss in which the Angels scored three times in their final at-bat.

"Obviously, it didn't end well, and that's extremely frustrating when you have the lead like that," said Allen Craig, who had earlier put the Cards ahead with a three-run homer. "But we haven't experienced that too much this season, and it's bound to happen. Mujica has been pretty much perfect all year, and he's done a great job."

Starter Adam Wainwright, clutching a 5-3 lead, was given the first opportunity to secure what would have been a complete game and a series win. Though manager Mike Matheny had Mujica warming, he intended to stick with his ace unless the potential tying run came to the plate. Standing between Wainwright going the distance for the fifth time this season was the heart of the Angels' order, starting with Albert Pujols.

Held hitless in his first 10 at-bats of the series, Pujols took Wainwright's 2-2 curveball and poked it into center field for a single.

"My job right there wasn't to hit a home run," Pujols said. "It was to get on base somehow, hopefully give Josh [Hamilton] an opportunity to drive me in."

Pujols' single signaled the end of Wainwright's night. Wainwright, now with seven starts of at least eight innings this season, exited in line to become the second National League pitcher to accrue 12 wins.

"The leadoff hitter is so key right there," Wainwright said. "That just changes the tempo of the whole inning and gives them some real good life."

Mujica was called upon for his first save opportunity since June 19. Perfect in 21 chances, Mujica endured his first blown save two pitches into his night.

With a 1-0 count against Hamilton, Molina called for an inside fastball. Mujica shook it off, wanting to throw his signature split-changeup. Hamilton crushed it for a two-run homer.

Trouble only continued. Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo followed with singles to put runners on the corners, though Mujica stuck with his changeup to retire Alberto Callaspo and Hank Conger on flyouts that were too shallow to score Kendrick. Nine-hole hitter Erick Aybar worked the count to 2-1, at which point Molina, again, called fastball. Mujica instead went back to his changeup. Aybar dropped it into left to send the Cardinals to their second walk-off loss of the season.

"I didn't follow Yadi, and that's a mistake I can't make anymore," Mujica said. "From now on, I'm just going with Yadi. It was a big mistake."

The loss left the Cardinals with only three wins in this 11-game detour through the America League, but three opponents with a combined .391 winning percentage are on the docket next.

"This is one, you could tell the guys were really pushing hard for," Matheny said. "I think they knew if we came back from this trip .500 that it's a much different looking trip than how we actually played. We've just been trying to fight through it. We had everything that we could expect from Waino in a game like this and some good offense. We just couldn't finish it off."

The Angels bunched three singles together in the third to take an early 2-0 lead off the Cardinals' soon-to-be All-Star. An inning later, Craig trumped it with a three-run blast.

Carlos Beltran's single and a walk after an 11-pitch at-bat by Matt Holliday set up the inning for Craig, whose 10 homers have all come in the last 54 games. He now sits second in the NL with 66 RBIs and third with a .325 batting average. Craig finished the road trip with 13 hits.

The Angels answered back, tying the game on Trumbo's solo homer in the bottom half of the frame. St. Louis tacked on single runs off Joe Blanton in each of the next two innings to move back in front.

Daniel Descalso, making the first of what is expected to be several starts in place of shortstop Pete Kozma, was in the middle of the Cardinals' scoring in the fifth and sixth. He led off the fifth with a double before eventually scoring on Matt Carpenter's sacrifice fly. In the sixth, his RBI single helped the Cardinals capitalize on Trumbo's fielding error at first base.

Also overshadowed by the outcome was Matt Adams' night on defense. He made a pair of diving catches -- one to his right, the other to his left -- and picked a pair of low throws to first.

"It was good clean baseball," Matheny said. "We played hard. We had a lot of things going right. We just didn't finish."

The Cardinals, now 48-3 when leading after eight innings this season, have lost their last eight games decided by two runs or less.

"We gave ourselves a chance to win and just didn't get it done down the stretch," Wainwright said. "We played a good game today. Good defense, our hitters did great. We just didn't close it out." Comments