ST. LOUIS — Every day seems like old-timers day at Busch Stadium.
Forty-year-old Adam Wainwright retired 22 of 23 batters at one point and 39-year-old Yadier Molina had a two-run home run and a double in a 5-4 victory over the Dodgers on Wednesday night, giving St. Louis Cardinals fans something else to cheer about when not establishing their reverence for 41-year-old Albert Pujols.
“I just thought Wainwright had our number tonight,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Wainwright (15-7 with a 2.98 ERA), who is having a throwback season to his prime. “That first inning, I thought we started off positive and came away with one run. After that, he settled in and just had really good glove-side command, spinning the baseball, curveball was sharp. … This is what Wainwright does. He was off the barrel all night long.
“We made it a game. But we just have to give credit to Wainwright and what he did tonight.”
Wainwright is the oldest but not the only pitcher to cast his spell over the Dodgers’ lineup recently.
Despite leading the National League in runs scored, the Dodgers’ offense has shown a propensity for sustained stretches of somnolence like the mid-game nap against Wainwright. They did rally to drive him from the game and scored twice in the ninth inning, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate before Chris Taylor struck out to end the game (with Pujols on deck).
Over their past 19 games (during which they have gone 13-6), however, the Dodgers have hit .206 as a team and averaged just 3.89 runs per game.
“Yeah, it’s definitely been inconsistent,” said Max Muncy, who had two of the seven hits Wainwright allowed. “Pitchers come out and they give us their best. We really haven’t been giving our best back at them. That’s just one of those things where we have the talent and we’re just not putting it together. We haven’t really been able to do it all year.
“I think if you ask anybody on this team they’ll tell you we’ve really sucked on the offensive side.”
The Dodgers’ loss came on the same day the first-place San Francisco Giants (90-50) rallied to beat the Colorado Rockies in Denver. It was the Giants’ MLB-high eighth win this season when they trailed in the ninth inning or later and dropped the Dodgers (88-52) two games back in the NL West race.
Things started out more promising than that for the Dodgers.
After Trea Turner struck out to start the game, three consecutive Dodgers had hits off of Wainwright – singles by Muncy and Mookie Betts and a double by Corey Seager.
Muncy scored on Seager’s double but Betts was thrown out at the plate.
Their next hit off Wainwright didn’t come until the sixth inning, when Muncy ended a stretch of 15 consecutive Dodgers retired with a solo home run over the Cardinals’ bullpen in right field. Wainwright retired the next seven Dodgers in order after that hiccup.
“He was just changing speeds,” Muncy said. “He’s very elite at changing speeds. That’s what has made him so good. He wasn’t missing much over the plate. Just kept us off balance the entire night.”
By the time Muncy went deep, the Cardinals had built a lead for Wainwright with Molina doing the most damage against Dodgers starter Mitch White.
He had a two-run home run in a three-run first inning then doubled and scored on an RBI single by Edmundo Sosa in the fourth.
The Dodgers beat the ball into the ground against Wainwright and his curveball. He struck out only four but induced 12 ground outs during his run retiring 22 of 23. Only three balls left the infield from the second through sixth innings (one of them Muncy’s 414-foot home run).
The offense’s drift back into sleep mode after the promise of the first inning linked up with the end of Monday’s game, when the last 19 Dodgers batters were retired and erased the positive signs of Tuesday’s 7-2 win during which they hit four home runs and scored runs in five separate innings.
“I wish I had an answer,” Roberts said when quizzed about the offense’s inconsistency. “I know that the preparation, the urgency every night from the beginning of the season hasn’t changed. So I just don’t really have an answer.
“But clearly the last 30 days we just haven’t been ourselves. The pitching and defense has allowed us to win a lot of ball games. There’s going to come a time when the offense has to pick up some slack too.”
The bats did wake up again in the ninth inning, depriving Wainwright of an MLB-best fourth complete game and getting the Dodgers within a run on singles by Trea Turner (extending his hitting streak to 15 games), Betts and Seager and a sacrifice fly by Will Smith. But Chris Taylor struck out against Geovanny Gallegos to end the game.
“We have a lot of guys that have been here for a lot of years,” Muncy said of the late-game life. “We’ve been able to come back a lot of times in the past. It’s still in there. There’s a lot of fight in this team. we know who we are.”