(BaseballStL) — Carlos Martinez took the hill Thursday as the last chance the Cardinals had to break .500 on the road trip.
Facing the Giants on the back of a dominant start by Adam Wainwright, the 22-year-old needed a strong showing for both the club’s record and his own resume.
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He gave the Birds five strong innings, allowing five hit, one run and issuing a solitary free pass.
His 13 first pitch strikes helped him toward six strikeouts and his six groundouts kept threats to a minimum.
The one run came in the third when back-to-back hits by Gregor Blanco and pitcher Madison Bumgarner put the Giants on the board. From there, Martinez struck out Hunter pence and got the second and third hitters in the San Francisco lineup to ground out.
He was tested far more intensely in the fifth when, with one out, Blanco bunted his way on. Martinez had the wind knocked out of him diving for the ball, but stayed in the game after a delay.
Pinch hitter Joaquin Arias lined out next, seemingly setting the inning up for an uneventful ending. Pence hit a 3-1 pitch softly to short, but Jhonny Peralta’s throw to first wasn’t in time. The play was bang-bang, and manager Mike Matheny challenged the call unsuccessfully.
After a four minute delay, Joe Panik drew a 3-2 walk to load the bases. The bullpen began to stir in earnest as Buster Posey stepped in with the bases loaded and a four-run lead tenuously in the balance.
It was a monster situation for a young pitcher to handle, and Martinez never blinked. He went right at the former MVP with two fastballs, getting ahead 0-2. Three sharp-breaking sliders followed. The first two missed the zone to even the count, but the third was waved at by Posey, and a foul tip ended the inning.
He exited the game with 88 pitches, having steered the Cardinals through rough waters and preserving a 5-1 lead.
At the plate, he provided a pair of runs for himself with a one-out single that scored Mark Ellis and Jon Jay with the infield in.
It was one of 14 hits the Cardinals racked up on the Giants, as the offense erupted in the final road game of the trip. San Francisco made two critical errors, both with their arms, and St. Louis capitalized on both. When a double play throw sailed into left in the fourth, the Cardinals used the extra outs to score three runs.
When another went into center in the seventh, they picked up another to put the game beyond one swing of the bat and stretch the lead to 7-2.
Now 46-40 on the season, they head home five games behind the division-leading Bewers.