HOUSTON (AP)—Adam Wainwright pitched seven impressive innings, hit an RBI double, scored a run and started a pivotal double play with a barehanded pickup.
Not bad for his first career start.
“We needed to get off the snide and put a ‘W’ on the board, that’s the big thing,” Wainwright said. “I started, kept my team in the game, so, yeah, I’m happy.”
Wainwright, a converted closer who got the final out against Detroit to help St. Louis win the title, got his RBI double in the third inning, then came home on Chris Duncan’s two-run homer to help the Cardinals avoid their first 0-4 start since 1997.
Duncan also had an RBI double in the eighth as St. Louis snapped a five-game losing streak to the Astros.
“It helps my confidence a little bit,” said Duncan, who hit .170 against left-handers last season. “I just started seeing the ball better throughout the game.”
Pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro hit an RBI single off of Jason Isringhausen with two outs in the ninth, but Jason Lane flied out and Isringhausen earned his first save of the season and 250th of his career.
Last season, Wainwright replaced Isringhausen in the bullpen when the closer underwent hip surgery.
At least for a night, Wainwright (1-0) made a seamless adjustment to the starting role.
“The only thing I was thinking about was trying to pitch my heart out until the end of the game,” Wainwright said. “I didn’t want to let the team down.”
Carlos Lee had a sacrifice fly to drive home the first run for the Astros, who are off to their worst start since they opened 0-4 in 1990.
Manager Phil Garner has sent out a different batting lineup in each of Houston’s first four games, but the Astros have scored only 10 runs.
“It’s like we’ve hit the dog days of April,” Garner said. “We are just not having good bats at all.”
Wainwright had something to do with the Astros’ struggles, ably filled in for ace Chris Carpenter, who sat out his scheduled start because of inflammation in his right elbow. Carpenter couldn’t have looked much better than Wainwright, who made 61 appearances out of the bullpen last season.
After Lee’s sacrifice fly scored Mike Lamb in the fourth, Wainwright escaped his only other trouble with two alert fielding plays in the seventh.
Brad Ausmus then dropped a bunt in front of the mound, but Wainwright made a barehanded pickup and flicked the ball to catcher Yadier Molina, who tagged out Burke at the plate. Molina then threw to first to get Ausmus and complete the double play.
“That is such a great play,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. “I don’t know how you can top it. The best part was how clutch it was.”
Wainwright snagged Mark Loretta’s grounder up the middle to end the inning.
“Heck, that’s the game right there,” Wainwright said of the defensive stops. “They could’ve very easily tied it up. Instead, we came away unscathed.”
Loretta was pinch-hitting for Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez (0-1), who gave up only four hits and struck out five in seven innings, but still lost his fifth straight decision.
Trever Miller replaced Rodriguez in the eighth and walked Scott Spiezio, who pinch-hit for Wainwright. David Eckstein singled before Duncan doubled into the right-field corner to score Spiezio and make it 4-1.
Wainwright was the Cardinals’ closer at the end of last season and he struck out Detroit’s Brandon Inge to secure St. Louis’ 10th World Series.
But the rotation was gutted by free agency and La Russa converted Wainwright from stopper to starter. Wainwright sparkled in seven starts at spring training, going 4-2 with a 1.10 ERA, the lowest in the NL.
He helped himself in the third inning Friday, doubling over Burke’s head in center field to score So Taguchi, who led off with a single. It was Wainwright’s second RBI and fourth hit in his seventh career at-bat.
After Eckstein flied out, Duncan hammered a 2-1 pitch from Rodriguez into the right-field seats, his first homer of the year and third at Minute Maid Park in the last two seasons.
Houston 1B Lance Berkman, who hit .315 last season, went 1-for-4 with a strikeout and is off to a 2-for-13 start. … Biggio singled in the fifth and is 65 hits away from 3,000. … The Cardinals were the first defending champions to start 0-3 since Baltimore dropped its first four games in 1984.