By Jenifer Langosch and Anthony DiComo
ST. LOUIS -- Grasping for ways to correct their poor and puzzling home record, the Cardinals leaned on two of their most reliable sources on Wednesday. With punches of power from the offense and another dazzling performance from budding ace Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals coasted to an 8-1 victory to even their three-game series with the Mets.
The win allowed the Cardinals, now 29-34 at Busch Stadium, to maintain their 1 1/2-game lead over the Marlins for the second National League Wild Card spot. It also created a bit of separation from the Mets. New York stands 4 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in that race.
In a matchup of two of the league's top starters, only Martinez looked like one. He logged his fourth eight-inning start of the season and did so quite efficiently (97 pitches). Martinez limited the Mets to one run on four hits and worked around three walks with a pair of double plays to lower his ERA to 3.13. Over his last two starts, Martinez has held opponents to two runs in 15 innings.
"These last two outings, I really feel like have been two of my best," said Martinez, who has held the Mets to two runs or fewer in each of his four career starts against them. "My main focus has been trying to stay focused on the strike zone [and] not to outdo myself, and really trying to stay in control of my pitches, and that really helps me in getting the velocity I need to get. I feel really good about myself right now."
It's a trajectory far different than the one Mets starter Jacob deGrom is on. After giving up eight runs on 13 hits in his last start, deGrom served up 12 hits -- including three home runs -- over 4 2/3 innings on Wednesday. Matt Carpenter's leadoff homer promptly extended the Cardinals' home run streak to 13 games. Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty later added long balls for insurance. It had been exactly one year since deGrom had last surrendered three homers in a start.
"The win [Tuesday] night was so big, because we said, 'We've got Jake going tomorrow night, and that's going to give us a chance to get the second game, too," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He just didn't have it."
The Cardinals finished the evening with 19 hits, tying the team's season high.
"There were just quality at-bats all night long against a very good pitcher," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That's something that they have to keep filing away. I love watching them mash."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Back with a bang: A pair of stays in Triple-A and reassurance from his manager that he will get regular opportunity with Matt Holliday out appears to have reenergized Grichuk. Grichuk extended the lead on Wednesday with a solo homer and reached base with a double and walk, as well. In 11 games since being recalled, Grichuk has tallied 12 extra-base hits, including five homers, and driven in 11.
"Just knowing I can go out there and play my game and be who I am and not try to do something else definitely gives you the confidence to just go out and play," Grichuk said. "I feel really good right now. Hopefully it can continue."
Trending downward: Considering all the injuries to their rotation, the Mets need deGrom in top form as much now as ever. But he is slogging through his worst stretch of the season, giving up double-digit hits in consecutive starts for the first time in his career. The three home runs that deGrom allowed Wednesday matched a career high, offering tangible evidence of his spotty command.
"I honestly don't know why," deGrom said. "Every time I seem to miss, it seems to go right down the middle, and it seems to get hit out of the park or off the wall or something. These last two are frustrating, but I've got another one in five days."
From the top: Following eight mostly unproductive games as the team's three-hole hitter, Carpenter returned to the leadoff spot and immediately contributed. With his 12th career leadoff homer, Carpenter drove in his first run since Aug. 10. His tenure as a No. 3 hitter was not nearly as successful, as Carpenter tallied one extra-base hit in 32 at-bats. The Cardinals improved to 13-1 in games in which Carpenter has homered this season.
"It's obviously stood out over time how great of an at-bat he takes at the top of the lineup," Matheny said of Carpenter. "Trying to get him right, I think, is very important for our club, and we'll see if the top of the order can help with that."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With two more double plays on Wednesday, Martinez has now induced 27 this season. That not only leads all National League pitchers, but it also positioned Martinez with a chance to reach the franchise season record of 34, set by John Denny in 1978.
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Whatever elation Jay Bruce felt after snapping an 0-for-12 funk with a second-inning double evaporated quickly, when Bruce left the game with a right calf strain. Alejandro De Aza entered the game as a pinch-runner, as Bruce retreated to the clubhouse for testing and treatment. He is hopeful that he can return to the lineup Thursday.
"It felt like a cramp that wouldn't let up," Bruce said. "I felt like it would get better and go away, and it just didn't. I wanted to let them know, and they decided to take me out as a precaution."
Also ailing was outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who tweaked his ankle but stayed in the game. Cespedes' issue is not considered serious.
For the second straight night, the Mets made a postgame move to shore up their bullpen, optioning Erik Goeddel to Triple-A Las Vegas and recalling left-hander Sean Gilmartin to replace him. Goeddel spent just one day with the Mets, giving up two runs in 1 2/3 innings.
"He's one of my favorites. He works quick, so you're not out on defense for a long, long time. I think that helps the quality of our at-bats as an offense, because we're conserving energy and not getting worn out on the field. Give him some credit for what the offense did." -- Piscotty, on playing behind Martinez
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: As the Mets continue to chug along in what Collins has taken to calling "crunch time," they'll turn to an unlikely face for Thursday's 8:15 p.m. ET series finale: rookie Seth Lugo, who will make a second start in place of the injured Steven Matz. Lugo gave the Mets a quality start last time out, and will be looking to make it two straight at Busch Stadium.
Cardinals:Adam Wainwright will seek to snap a six-game winless streak when he starts against the Mets in Thursday's series finale at 7:15 p.m. CT. Despite being remembered for throwing the curveball that knocked the Mets out of the 2006 postseason, he's not fared especially well against New York in his career. Wainwright enters Thursday 3-4 with a 5.17 ERA against the Mets.