ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Adam Wainwright gave an overworked St. Louis Cardinals bullpen a welcome respite.
Wainwright threw a four-hitter with nine strikeouts and scored on Ryan Ludwick's tiebreaking two-run homer in the eighth inning of the St. Louis Cardinals' 5-3 victory over the New York Mets on Sunday night. Wainwright's fourth career complete game came a day after a 20-inning, 2-1 loss.
Wainwright (3-0) worked eight shutout innings against the Astros in his previous start on Monday in the home opener. Manager Tony La Russa gave him the go-ahead to finish his first career start against New York.
"The 20 innings the night before was the only thing I had going in my favor," Wainwright said. "I knew I had to attack hitters, get early swings and early outs."
Colby Rasmus snapped an 0-for-18 slump with a tying three-run homer in the fifth against the Mets, who dropped two of three and have lost four straight series to open the season for the first time since 1997. Ludwick hit the first pitch from Ryota Igarashi over the left field wall to score Wainwright, who had doubled off Pedro Feliciano with one out.
Ludwick, who hit 22 homers in 2009 and 37 in '08, finally had his first this season.
"I was beginning to wonder if I could even hit a homer anymore," Ludwick said. "It felt nice, especially in that moment, that scenario."
Tobi Stoner (0-1), recalled from Triple-A Buffalo earlier in the day, allowed a run on three hits in 2 1-3 innings. Angel Pagan had two hits and two RBIs.
Ludwick was 2 for 2 and walked three times, matching his career best and doubling his season total, and Matt Holliday was 3 for 3 with a walk to end an 0-for-16 slump while also shaking off flu-like symptoms that dogged him earlier in the weekend.
Mostly, the Cardinals leaned heavily on stingy starting pitching that allowed four earned runs in 45 innings during a 4-2 homestand while surmounting a lack of clutch hitting.
St. Louis stranded 10 runners, four times leaving two on, a day after 22 men were left on in the marathon loss to the Mets. Albert Pujols was 0 for 5, only the 24th time in 1,411 career games that he'd gone hitless in five or more at-bats.
"Hitting is the toughest," La Russa said. "The way to correct it is to do things right and let things happen. We've got to discipline ourselves."
Wainwright (3-0) allowed only four singles and needed 107 pitches. Plus he shook off a costly early error a day after receiving his first Gold Glove. The Mets bunched three of the hits in a three-run second, one of the runs unearned after Wainwright's wild throw.
"I slipped and made a bad throw into right field," Wainwright said. "Other than that I felt very good all day."
New York had no extra-base hits the final two games of the series.
"Pitching-wise, I think we'll be OK," manager Jerry Manuel said. "Offensively, we've got to take it up a notch. We need to get that squared away."
Rasmus' third homer tied it at 3 in the fifth against John Maine, who has allowed four homers his first three starts. The Cardinals had at least two baserunners all five innings against Maine, who threw 115 pitches and hasn't lasted longer than five innings in any of his first three starts.
"I don't think it's going to be too long before I'm comfortable again," Maine said. "Throwing has never been this hard before. I've got to keep working."
The lone assist by the Mets in the first five innings was right fielder Jeff Francoeur's throw to the plate to nail Ludwick trying to score from second for the final out in the first.
The Mets were 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position the first two games before getting a pair of hits plus Wainwright's crucial throwing error for a 3-0 lead in the second. Gary Matthews Jr. singled to load the bases before Pagan's two-run single.
Pagan was stranded between first and second when Wainwright, backing up on a late throw to the plate, motioned to first baseman Albert Pujols and then floated a high throw into right field that allowed Matthews to score and Pagan to advance to third.
NOTES: Pujols received his MVP and Silver Slugger awards in a pregame ceremony. ... Cardinals C Yadier Molina played all 20 innings Saturday and played the whole game Sunday. ... The Cardinals are 8-4, taking two of three in all four series.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)