KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals were into the Kansas City bullpen by the fourth inning, and Adam Wainwright was looking like a spry youngster rather than a 39-year-old workhorse as the right-hander sliced through the Royals batting order.
Just about everything was looking up for a team fighting for a playoff spot.
Then, everything went wrong.
Maikel Franco hit the go-ahead single off Wainwright with two outs in the sixth inning, and the Kansas City bullpen shut down the Cardinals from the fourth inning on, allowing the Royals to rally for a 4-1 victory on Monday night.
“The hardest part for me is I'm standing on the mound, I know our team needs me to get that zero right there,” said Wainwright, who wound up allowing three runs on six hits and two walks over 5 2/3 innings. “That's probably the best I felt all year, honestly. And it hurts to come away with a loss. The team needed me to come away with a win."
The Cardinals fell 4 1/2 games back of the Cubs in the NL Central and, more importantly, into a tie with Cincinnati for the division's second guaranteed playoff spot. The Reds beat the Brewers earlier in the night.
“You know, they all count. Clearly. We don't come to the park any day and don't feel good about it,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We played a pretty straight-up ballgame and a couple bounces went their way.”
Alex Gordon and Jorge Soler also drove in runs for the Royals, who returned for their final homestand after getting swept in Milwaukee, and were starting off with a playoff contender in the Cardinals that had won four straight games.
It didn't matter to Carlos Hernandez, making his second career start, and a stout Kansas City bullpen. Hernandez allowed one run over 3 2/3 innings before giving way to Jake Newberry, Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont (2-1) and Jesse Hahn. They combined to allow one hit — a two-out single by Paul Goldschmidt — without a walk over the next 4 1/3 innings.
Greg Holland worked around a leadoff single in the ninth for his sixth save.
“The bullpen was fantastic,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “One right after the other.”
The Interstate 70 rivals played to a draw through five innings in wildly different fashions.
The Cardinals leaned on Wainwright, their erstwhile ace, who faced the minimum number of batters through the first five innings. The Royals countered with a parade of relievers that seemed ever-stingier as the innings wore on.
How each team produced its lone early run was different, too.
The Cardinals took advantage of one mighty swing from Matt Carpenter, who sent the 3-1 offering from Hernandez nearly 440 feet into the fountains in right . The Royals answered with small ball in the fifth, stringing together a single, a double and a chopping fielder's choice from Gordon that knotted the game 1-all.
They used some more small ball to pull ahead in the sixth. Whit Merrifield led off with a single, Salvador Perez added a single of his own and, after Jorge Soler drew a walk, Franco gave the Royals a lead they would never relinquish.
“I mean, groundball to right field, to the left of first base — not a common thing,” Shildt said. “We'll take that soft contact. Can't always tell where it's going to go. Just because it doesn't work out doesn't mean it wasn't right.”
The Cardinals activated OF Dexter Fowler and RHP Giovanny Gallegos from the injured list before the game. Fowler had been out since Sept. 2 to deal with a stomach ailment that required a medication regimen that would have made him more vulnerable to the coronavirus should he become exposed. Gallegos was sidelined by a groin injury.
OF Justin Williams and RHP Nabil Crismatt were optioned to the club's alternate training site and RHP Roel Ramirez was designated for assignment to create space on the roster.
The Royals reinstated Soler from the injured list before the game and optioned infielder Kelvin Gutierrez to their alternate training site. Soler was hitting .235 with eight homers and 22 RBIs before hurting his oblique on Sept. 5.
RHP Brady Singer (3-4, 4.14 ERA) tries to build on a 14-inning scoreless streak covering his last two starts when the Royals continue their series against St. Louis. It is the sixth-longest active streak in the majors. The Cardinals go with LHP Austin Gomber (0-1, 2.37) , who pitched in relief of injured starter Dakota Hudson on Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
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