CHICAGO (AP) — This time the bullpen came through and Adam Wainwright finally got that elusive win.
Wainwright pitched six innings for his 20th victory and Allen Craig hit a three-run homer in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 7-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Friday.
Wainwright (20-11) got help from vindicated St. Louis reliever Kyle McClellan, who pitched two scoreless innings to help secure the victory.
Last season, Wainwright left his last start of the season against the Brewers with a 6-1 lead in the seventh inning with two runners on and no outs. His shot at a 20th victory evaporated when McClellan relieved him and allowed the two inherited runners to score and gave up four more runs.
"I was glad Kyle got to get in there and wipe the slate clean because he feels real bad about what happened last year," said Wainwright, who led the NL last season with 19 wins. "He pitched two great innings like he has all year for us today.
"I told him last year, I could care less about 20. When you win it, that’s cool. If I sit on 19 and did everything I could, I know he did everything he could last year. You can never second guess him."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa also praised McClellan for overcoming last season’s meltdown.
"Last year, that last game with the lead, Kyle came out and struggled. We went to Kyle (today) and he came out and got six outs," La Russa said. "It shows you how far he’s come. The guys are playing hard. They wanted it for him, for us.
"This is a real achievement. The level of wins for a starter is like RBIs for a position player. Everyone knows it. When you deserve it, you deserve it, and he does."
Wainwright coasted after getting staked a 3-0 lead in the first inning. The right-hander allowed one run on six hits, striking out seven and walking one.
Wainwright joined CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay as baseball’s third 20-game winner one season after no big league pitchers accomplished the feat.
"It’s amazing company. Two of the best pitchers in this era, really," Wainwright said. "The last 10 years, it’s hard to find two better pitchers than that. I’m very blessed to be in that conversation."
Wainwright is the first Cardinals pitcher to win 20 games since Chris Carpenter went 21-5 in 2005. He tied Halladay for the NL lead in strikeouts with 213 and lowered his ERA to 2.42, second behind Marlins starter Josh Johnson in the NL. The 28-year-old Wainwright improved to 19-0 when receiving 4-plus runs a game in support.
La Russa believes winning 20 games in a season is becoming a rarer feat.
"It’s tougher because the bullpen is so prominent. There’s times you just trust the game to the bullpen and if you’ve only got a one or two-run lead, pretty soon the guy gets a no-decision," he said. "The way you win 20 is the way he’s done it. (Carpenter), Halladay, guys that do it. That’s their game, they go deep. If they don’t go nine (innings), they go eight. If they don’t go eight, they go seven."
The Cardinals temporarily held the Reds’ magic number to three in the NL Central. The Cardinals trail the Reds by seven games with nine left. Cincinnati was playing at San Diego on later Friday night.
The Cubs got only 3 1-3 innings from starter Tom Gorzelanny (7-9) one day after they went through five relievers in a 13-0 loss to the Giants. Gorzelanny allowed seven runs on seven hits and walked five with four strikeouts. He pitched for the first time since Sept. 1, when he was hit in the hand by a line drive in a win over the Pirates.
Aramis Ramirez homered for Chicago, which began its final three-game home series of the season with its third loss in four games to fall 15 games under .500. The Cubs have only scored three run in its last four games.
"We’re not an offensive juggernaut to begin with and now you run into good pitching and we’re missing a few players and all the rest of it," said Mike Quade, the Cubs’ interim manager. "This isn’t the yellow brick road, I’m telling you right now, this is going to be a tough task the next few days with the clubs that we’re playing."
St. Louis has won back-to-back games after losing three straight and improved to 5-8 against the Cubs on the season.
Albert Pujols walked with two outs in the first inning and Matt Holliday extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a single. Then Craig followed with a three-run shot to left on a 3-2 pitch. It was his third homer of the season. A late addition to the lineup, Craig took Nick Stavinoha’s spot in the lineup after Stavinoha was scratched with a jammed right knee.
After Brendan Ryan doubled in the second inning, Wainwright helped his own cause with an RBI double down the left-field line.
Pujols stole third base in the third inning and scored on Craig’s double-play grounder. Pedro Feliz reached on an infield hit and scored from first on Matt Pagnozzi’s double to give the Cardinals a 6-1 lead.
Gorzelanny left the game after loading the bases with one out in the fourth, reliever Justin Berg struck out Holliday, but walked pinch hitter Jon Jay on four straight pitches before retiring the side.
Ramirez tagged Wainwright for a long leadoff home run to center in the second inning. Ramirez’s 24th homer of the season was estimated at 424 feet.