There were fleeting moments Thursday when it seemed like the tailwind of major-league history might lift the Cardinals, or at least Yadier Molina would on his own.
The Cardinals’ catcher, part of the tandem tying history in the afternoon game, hit two home runs, hoisting the Cardinals into a lead and then later into a tie. But not even Molina’s second career multi-homer game at Busch Stadium could carry the Cardinals over Washington’s unending parade of baserunners.
Not even a sprinkle of ninth inning magic could save them.
Washington tagged starter Adam Wainwright with nine hits and finished the day with 18 as they pulled away late for a 11-6 victory. Left fielder Alex Call could not make the catch on Tommy Edman’s walk-off double to left field Wednesday night, but he did miss anything Thursday. From the ninth spot in the Nationals’ order, Call had four hits, including two for extra bases. His three-run homer in the ninth inning widened the Nationals’ lead so that not even a pesky ninth from the Cardinals could spark anything like Wednesday’s comeback.
The Cardinals opened the ninth with back-to-back singles, loaded the bases with one out, and did enough to get Albert Pujols, in his final year, and Alec Burleson, in his first game, to the plate. Corey Dickerson’s two-run single did that, but the last-swing rally had a steeper climb and less oxygen than Wednesday’s showing.
Luke Voit, a St. Louis native shipped from San Diego to Washington in the Juan Soto trade, initiated three of the Nationals’ rallies.
He doubled and then scored the Nationals’ first run of the game, and in the seventh he drew a leadoff walk to put in motion a two-run innings. The run the Nationals added in the ninth inning came after Voit collected a second leadoff walk. The Lafayette High grad and Missouri State standout hit a towering homer run Wednesday night that was overshadowed by the Cardinals’ five-run ninth inning. He followed that performance with two hits and two walks Thursday as the Nationals split the four-game series.
Wainwright and Molina made their 324th career together, tying the major-league record for one battery. Detroit’s Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan set the record several generations ago. Molina and Wainwright at set to break the record Wednesday against Milwaukee, back at Busch Stadium.
Molina lifts Cardinals with a homer, twice
A day after his RBI single kept alive the Cardinals’ unlikely ninth-inning rally, Molina homered to back Wainwright on their historic day.
And then did so again.
Molina, who had not homered since his return from a six week stay on the injured list, launched a two-run homer into the third deck beyond left field to break a 1-1 tie and restore a lead the Cardinals lost. Molina’s second inning homer was his third of the season and the Cardinals’ second in as many games into Big Mac Land.
The lead didn’t last, and when Molina came to the plate for his second at-bat of the game, the Cardinals trailed, 4-3. On a 2-2 pitch, Molina tied it to once again either get Wainwright off the hook for a loss or put him in position to win. Molina’s second homer of the game was a liner that carried over the wall in the left-field corner. In two swings, Molina doubled his season total for homers, giving the celebrated “September Yadi” that his manager has described as many homers in eight days as he had the previous five months.
The multi-homer game was Molina’s ninth of his career and first since April 2021. Despite those homers giving him 1,010 hits at Busch Stadium III, the multi-homer game was only his second at the downtown ballpark. His previous one came in May 2017.
Wainwright searches in second straight start
It took the blunt assessment of his beloved catcher for Wainwright (10-10) to come to grips with what he knew in his previous start: He didn’t have much. His stuff was off. It was something of a wonder that he got through five innings with pitches sometimes felt as flat as day-old seltzer.
And then it happened again.
For the second consecutive start, Wainwright did not see the sixth inning and had to dance around a flurry of base hits just to get through five innings. Washington tagged him with nine hits through five innings and four runs to nudge Wainwright from the game in a 4-4 tie. In his two September starts, Wainwright has allowed eight runs on 18 hits through five innings. He’s gotten by on guile at times.
Two doubles separated by two fly outs in the second inning helped the Nationals to their first run against the right-hander. In the third, consecutive singles and then a sacrifice fly gave the Nationals their second run. The fourth inning began with a sharp grounder back at Wainwright – right at his chest. Wainwright turned away from the ball as if to protect his face and blindly put his glove where the ball might go. It did. The catch of the grounder was replayed a few times on the scoreboard and elicited applause from the crowd that momentarily kept Wainwright off the mound as he grinned and reset to pitch.
Three of the next four Washington batters reached base. The Nationals took a 4-3 when No. 9 hitter Alex Call drilled a two-run double. Wainwright got an infield popup to end the inning. He was not involved its retrieval. The veteran pitched around two singles and an error in the fifth inning to keep the game stuck, 4-4. But that inning pushed his pitch count to 93 and got the bullpen involved for the sixth.
Nationals take, extend their lead
The Cardinals turned to three relievers to cover the next two innings, and by the time the eighth arrived the Nationals had already widened their lead. Washington got three singles and a wild pitch in the sixth inning to break the 4-4 tie. The key hit was an infield single that brought home the go-ahead run against Jordan Hicks, the second reliever into the game.
Against Hicks again in the seventh, a leadoff walk became a sacrifice fly that pushed the Nationals to a two-run lead. Shortstop C. J. Abram greeted Chris Stratton as he arrived to finish the seventh inning with a double down the left-field line.
Once again, the Nationals took a lead into the bottom of the ninth.
This one was far heartier, built to withstand a rally.
@dgoold on Twitter