SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants broke out for more runs than they scored in their entire series with the Padres and Johnny Cueto recorded his fifth complete game of the season, as San Francisco defeated the Cardinals, 6-2, at AT&T Park on Thursday night.
The win moved the Giants one game in front of the Mets and two games ahead of the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card standings. San Francisco also gained a game on the Dodgers, closing to within four games of the NL West leaders. The Cardinals' loss officially handed the Chicago Cubs the NL Central crown.
"This is an important time for us," Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright said of the team's push to advance to the postseason for a sixth straight season. "I'm not trying to downplay the game, but we do have time left. We have plenty of time left to make this happen."
After combining for just five runs while getting swept by the Padres, the Giants' offense resembled a much more complete group. Hunter Pence hit a two-run homer to extend his hitting streak to nine games, Buster Posey recorded four hits and Cueto even supplied a sacrifice fly to score the go-ahead run. Denard Span, who batted eighth for the first time this year, added to the lead with a two-run base knock in the seventh inning.
"We tacked on," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "Guys did a good job. It's been an issue in some of these games. They kept fighting."
Breaking out offensively wasn't totally necessary with Cueto on the mound, though. The right-hander shut down the Cardinals while throwing his NL-leading fifth complete game of the season. Cueto was untouchable during the latter half of the game, retiring the last 17 batters he faced.
"That's what good starters do -- they're good closers and he really got better as he went," said Bochy. "They chipped away at him. But he settled down. He got better there in the eighth and ninth. And I think he smelled it."
Said Cueto: "Every inning I felt a lot better. This was my game."
Wainwright exited the game after allowing four runs in 5 2/3 innings. He limited the damage for the most part, and San Francisco went just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position against him.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Pence gives offense a lift: Pence kickstarted the Giants' offense Thursday night, crushing a hanging curveball 110 mph, according to Statcast™, into the left-field bleachers in the first inning. The two-run homer gave the Giants a two-run lead and extended the right fielder's hitting streak to nine games.
"That was a hanger," Wainwright said. "That was my worst pitch of the day, for sure."
RISP improvement: Hitless since Saturday in chances with a runner in scoring position, the Cardinals ended that drought with Jedd Gyorko's two-out RBI single in the second. An inning later, the Cardinals tallied another run when Randal Grichuk, with runners on second and third, delivered a single to center. A pair of missed opportunities behind Grichuk, however, left a runner stranded at third and precluded the Cards from taking the lead.
"It seemed like with a couple of those innings, you hate to look up there and have just one run on the board when you had multiple guys on base," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "This is the kind of offense that can put a crooked number up there in a heartbeat." More »
Posey's consistency: The Giants didn't take batting practice Thursday and it had an extremely positive effect for Posey. The catcher provided the Giants with just his second four-hit game of the season Thursday. He went 4-for-5 with one double and a run.
"He had a good day, didn't he?" said Bochy. "He did a nice job behind the plate and swung the bat well."
Just short: On a night when the Cardinals made several terrific defensive plays, a couple of near-misses bit them. Right fielder Stephen Piscotty, who showed off his above-average arm later in the game, made an off-target throw that didn't come close to catching Brandon Belt as he scored on a third-inning sacrifice fly. That sparked a two-run inning for the Giants. The seventh inning was then extended when Kolten Wong couldn't cleanly corral a grounder he ranged far to his right to nab. Unable to turn that into the inning's final out, the Cardinals then surrendered Span's two-RBI single.
"It was one of those where you're going back on the ball, so it's tough for you to get your momentum going home," Piscotty said.
"He's doing what he does. He tries to throw off your rhythm and do all the crazy leg kicks and quick pitching. He's got that down to a science. We did hit some balls hard; they just got caught." -- Piscotty, on Cueto
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Wainwright's 6.14 ERA in 16 road starts this season is the second-highest such mark in the Majors, behind only Detroit's Anibal Sanchez (6.99). Coming into this season, Wainwright's road ERA in 108 career starts was 3.18.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: Rookie Luke Weaver will start for the Cardinals as they continue their series in San Francisco on Friday. First pitch from AT&T Park is scheduled for 9:15 p.m. CT. Weaver has not allowed more than three runs in any of his first six career starts.
Giants: Left-hander Matt Moore will take the ball when these clubs resume their four-game series Friday at 7:15 p.m PT. Moore is 3-4 with a 4.05 ERA in eight starts for the Giants.