ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright has dominated most of his foes since the All-Star break. He’s been especially tough on the team from his home state.
Wainwright, who is from St. Simon, Ga., beat Atlanta for the second straight start with seven sharp innings, Juan Encarnacion homered and the St. Louis Cardinals handed the Braves their fifth loss in six games, 4-1 on Sunday.
Wainwright is 5-2 with a 2.51 ERA in nine starts since the break. On Sunday, he held the Braves to a run and six hits with a walk and five strikeouts, a near mirror image of his July 20 victory at Atlanta, when he also held the Braves to a run and six hits in seven innings, with two walks and seven strikeouts.
“I’ve got a bunch of guys I keep very close contact with and they’re still some of my best friends in the world over there,” Wainwright said. “So, some bragging rights the last two times in my favor.”
Yadier Molina and So Taguchi each drove in a run in a three-run fifth off Jo-Jo Reyes (0-2) for the Cardinals, who took two of three in the series. The defending World Series champions are one game below .500 for the second time during a 4-2 homestand. The Cardinals have not reached .500 since they were 6-6 on April 16.
“The thing about that is, all the people we were pronounced dead to were not in this clubhouse,” Wainwright told reporters. “They’re in here now, all of you guys are in here.
“We’ve still got a ways to go but we’ve played ourselves back into contention.”
St. Louis is now 2 1/2 games behind the Chicago Cubs and in third place in the NL Central.
“I just know we have more plusses than problems, and that hasn’t been true quite a bit of the year,” manager Tony La Russa said. “So we’re having some fun.”
Mark Teixeira had two hits and Brian McCann had an RBI single in the sixth for the Braves, who began the day a season-worst seven games back in the NL East, and are 0-7 in Reyes’ starts. The Braves played without Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, both nursing minor injuries, and remained four games behind the San Diego Padres in the wild-card race.
“It’s real simple when you get right down to it,” manager Bobby Cox said. “You have to win some ballgames and some other teams have to lose some, and you keep grinding.”
For the second straight day, the Cardinals had a big fifth after four scoreless innings. St. Louis, 12-4 in its past 16 at home, rallied for five runs in the fifth against Tim Hudson on Saturday.
Wainwright (12-9) has a pair of seven-inning starts against the Braves this season, giving up one run each time. He scattered six hits on Sunday, and in 17 innings overall against Atlanta has given up two runs with 17 strikeouts.
Jason Isringhausen worked a perfect ninth for his 27th save in 29 chances, and fourth during the homestand. It was the 200th career save for Isringhausen, who struggled last year, then underwent hip surgery in September and missed the postseason.
“That just goes to show you what a healthy Izzy can do,” Wainwright said. “Look at his numbers this year, they’re crazy.”
Reyes has an 8.31 ERA in seven starts, and was recalled from Triple-A Richmond five days before his latest outing. He worked six innings and gave up four runs -two earned -and seven hits with five strikeouts and no walks.
Reyes’ best success has come against the Cardinals, who managed one run and three hits in 5 1/3 innings against the rookie left-hander on July 22. Right-handed hitters came into the game batting above .300 against Reyes, left-handers just .167, and St. Louis stacked its lineup with all right-handed hitters and switch-hitters.
“I think this is my best outing up here,” Reyes said. “You can’t worry about the win or loss, you’ve just got to worry about making every pitch count.”
Third baseman Chris Woodward’s two-out fielding error led to two unearned runs in the Cardinals’ three-run fifth. Woodward was unable to glove Brendan Ryan’s two-out grounder just to his left, allowing one run to score, and Taguchi followed with a run-scoring single for a 3-0 lead.
Ryan Ludwick’s single, his second hit of the day, started the inning, and he scored on Molina’s double into the left-field corner.
Teixeira doubled with two outs and scored on McCann’s single in the sixth and Encarnacion, who had been 2-for-14 during the homestand, led off the bottom half with his ninth homer. Teixeira had two hits and is 14-for-32 (.438) with five homers during an eight-game hitting streak.