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NYM@STL: Wacha strikes out seven against Mets

ST. LOUIS -- After weeks of preaching patience while constrained by their own ragged showings, the Cardinals are finally beginning to resemble the club that all along they insisted that they were.

A team long sustained by its pitching staff has found an element of timely hitting to complement it, all of which has the Cardinals currently showcasing themselves at their best. It's true statistically, as Tuesday's 5-2 victory over the Mets extended the team's winning streak to a season-best five games and pushed the club a season-high seven games over .500.

It's also clear in the quality play.

"The offense is doing what it's supposed to be doing and the pitching has been doing what it's done all year," said Peter Bourjos, one of five players to drive in a run. "Earlier in the year, the offense was struggling and putting along, and it just didn't seem like we could get it going. Now it seems like we're starting to move in the direction we need to be going."

Pitching has been the backbone as the Cardinals have now run off eight wins in their last nine games. The staff has combined to allow 13 runs during that stretch, six of those coming in the lone loss. But there has also been a resurgence of the offense, one that has cruised past the Mets in the first two games of this series by taking a page out of last season's blueprint.

A night after tallying six hits with runners in scoring position, the Cardinals peppered four off Mets starter Jon Niese in front of another sellout crowd at Busch Stadium. Each came with two outs; each resulted in a run. The Mets were contrastingly handcuffed in such spots and are now 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position this series.

"You look at how we've lost the last two games, and when they've had opportunities, they've capitalized on them with base hits -- not home runs, base hits," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We're coming up and we're not getting the hits. We're popping up or striking out or whatever. We're not even advancing runners."

The key two-out hits came after the Cardinals and Mets traded early solo homers. Yadier Molina went first, leading off the second inning with his first home run off Mets pitching since going deep at Shea Stadium in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series.

Another perennial All-Star, David Wright, followed in the fourth with a shot to nearly the same spot over the left-field wall.

"It didn't have much bite on it," starter Michael Wacha said of the smashed curveball.

It would be the only run allowed by Wacha, who rebounded from his worst start of the season to throw six innings against a team that had knocked him out after four back in a windy April outing.

His recent fits with fastball command were a non-issue, and that made his changeup once again effective. After striking out just one in his last two starts (11 innings), Wacha also rediscovered his knack for getting key swing-and-misses on a night when the Cardinals needed him to go deep. The bullpen had only five available arms.

"We don't go into every at-bat looking to strike guys out. We're looking to get early outs," manager Mike Matheny said. "But [those strikeouts] get him out of big innings when that looked like those were about to happen."

Wacha's second punchout of the night stalled the Mets' momentum in the second, an inning in which New York would strand two. A strikeout of Daniel Murphy ended the fourth with runners on the corners, as did a strikeout of Ruben Tejada in the sixth.

"I tried to make that one of the big [points of] emphasis tonight, and whenever those guys were in scoring position, I tried to slow the game down," said Wacha, now 5-5 after previously being winless this month. "I'm really just trying to make my pitch in those situations. I hadn't been doing that in the last few starts. It was nice to be able to start making pitches and to be able to execute those."

Sam Freeman followed Wacha with two scoreless innings. Jason Motte allowed a solo homer and subsequent double to start the ninth, forcing Matheny to turn to Pat Neshek for the veteran reliever's second career save. It took Neshek four pitches to get the necessary three outs.

Closer Trevor Rosenthal, Matheny disclosed afterward, was unavailable due to recent usage.

The Cardinals' lead had been built up in the middle innings as they scored twice in both the fifth and sixth.

Jon Jay and Matt Holliday contributed run-scoring extra-base hits with two outs in the fifth, an inning that opened with subbing third baseman Daniel Descalso being hit by a pitch. Jhonny Peralta's one-out double in the sixth and a missed catch by Murphy at second base extended that inning. Pinch-hitter Kolten Wong and Bourjos capitalized with two-out RBI singles.

This marked just the second time this season that the Cardinals have had at least four hits with a runner in scoring position on consecutive nights. It was also the team's third straight game scoring five runs, a first for the season.

"I feel like we're playing pretty good, but we've got to keep on pushing," said Jay, who is hitting .405 in his last 12 games. "It's only June, so you can't get complacent in this game, you've got to keep pushing every day and not worry about the other things. We can't look into the standings or what anyone else is doing. As long as we go out there and do what we're capable of and play hard every day, then we'll be all right."

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