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STL@NYM: Wacha hurls six solid, earns first win

NEW YORK -- The customary teammate beer shower awaited Michael Wacha as the Cardinals filed into the visitor's clubhouse following a 9-2 victory over the Mets at Citi Field on Tuesday night.

With his first Major League win pocketed, Wacha emerged from the celebration smiling and admittedly chilled. He also came out wiser.

Making just his third career start and his first on the road, Wacha salvaged a quality start out of a game that didn't start well for the 21-year-old right-hander. In his first trip to New York City, Wacha watched the Mets score twice and draw three walks while five of their first seven batters reached in the opening frame.

He took a visit from the pitching coach and a few from his catcher. He watched as his fastball lacked its usual downward movement, as his changeup elicited few bites from the New York offense. That was why a pitcher who had walked just 19 batters in 73 2/3 Minor League innings was having such trouble finding the zone.

But trailing, 2-0, with the bases full, Wacha found a way to get Kirk Nieuwenhuis to end the inning with a groundout. It gave him the opportunity to regroup and start fresh when he took the mound next. Wacha wouldn't just do better either; he followed with five scoreless innings, leaving the game with a four-run lead.

"There is a lot of excitement about [the team's young pitchers] right now, and rightfully so, but I think you really find out about them when things don't go as scripted," manager Mike Matheny said. "Tonight was one of those nights. He just got better as he went. I thought that showed a lot of heart and a lot of focus, and he never really let it get to him."

For Wacha, the eight-batter, 37-pitch first inning proved as valuable a lesson as he has had in his young big league career. He was reminded of how critical it is to get ahead in the counts and how the success of his changeup hinges on the command of his fastball. Once Wacha fixed both, he watched the rest fall in place.

"I just made a point to go out there and throw fastballs at the knees and try to get pitchers' counts," Wacha said. "After I got out of the first, I told myself to flush it out and forget about it and go out and attack the hitters the next couple of innings."

Wacha closed his six-inning start by scattering three hits and not walking a batter in his final five innings.

"When they don't have their best stuff and they're still able to show composure and they're still able to get outs, that's really a telltale sign of what you've got," Matheny added. "He did a terrific job."

Wacha's ability to recover gave the Cardinals' offense plenty of time to contribute the rest -- with some substantial assistance from the Mets, whose pair of errors led to seven unearned runs.

Quiet against Mets starter Jeremy Hefner for the first three innings, St. Louis scored once in the fourth and five more times in the fifth to finish erasing what had been a two-run deficit.

The Mets did themselves no favors in helping Hefner through that fifth inning. First baseman Daniel Murphy opened it with a throwing error to let Jon Jay reach. A double and groundout later, Jay scored to even the game.

New York had a chance to end the bleeding there when, with runners on the corners and one out, Yadier Molina hit a sharp liner to third baseman David Wright. But Wright's inability to field it cleanly precluded him from turning two. He recorded only one out on the play.

"David Wright, if there's a situation you said you want the ball hit to somebody, I'd pick him," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He just didn't make the play."

Two batters later, Allen Craig blasted a three-run homer into the left-field seats to give the Cardinals the 6-2 lead. The home run, Craig's fifth of the season, pushed his RBI total to 47, tied for fifth most in the National League.

"I think we're just rolling as a group," Craig said. "When somebody has some success at the top of the lineup, guys feed off of it and get that confidence going. We thrive off each others' success."

The blast came two innings after Craig suffered some whiplash when his head banged off the right-field wall as he fell making a catch. He was removed in the seventh for precautionary reasons, though Craig said he doesn't expect to be bothered by anything more than just some soreness.

The Cardinals padded their lead with two more unearned runs in the seventh, though the club has already requested that Major League Baseball review what was ruled a two-base error by right fielder Nieuwenhuis on Molina's deep fly ball.

Matt Holliday drove home Molina with his third single of the game. A bases-loaded walk to Jay pushed across the second unearned run. Shane Robinson added a solo homer in the ninth.

For the fifth straight game, every position player in the Cardinals' lineup reached base at least once. That included David Freese, whose two-hit night extended his hitting streak to 20 games, the longest streak in the Majors this season.

"I'm not sitting there thinking about it," Freese said. "It's nice to put something together, but you could hit four line drives and go 0-for-4. Hitting streaks are somewhat luck, and balls are just falling right in."

Matt Carpenter couldn't join Freese in pushing forward a double-digit hit streak. After hitting safely in his last 18 games, Carpenter finished 0-for-4 with a walk.

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