By Jenifer Langosch and Alaina Getzenberg
ST. LOUIS -- Hoping to make a push up the National League Central standings during a homestand that will lead them into the All-Star break, the Cardinals kicked things off by knocking around the Nationals in an 8-1 series-opening win Friday night at Busch Stadium. Catcher Yadier Molina ignited the offense with a season-high four RBIs.
While Mike Leake was cruising, the Cardinals built an early lead off a struggling Tanner Roark. Roark walked five of the first 12 batters he faced and was done after needing 85 pitches to finish three innings. By then, the Cardinals were ahead, 3-0.
"I would say just falling behind every single hitter was the source of everything," Roark said of his struggles. "Five walks, it's never good, behind every hitter, not pumping strike one to get them on the defensive is a big thing. First-pitch strikes are huge."
The Cardinals tacked on five more runs off reliever Jacob Turner in the fourth, which was punctuated by shortstop Paul DeJong's two-run homer. The blast, DeJong's sixth this season, extended his hitting streak to nine games. Molina also drove in two in the frame.
"Guys taking those good at-bats, drawing them out," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "There were so few quick outs, guys were working deeper counts and making their starter work real hard, and we could tell the more they were seeing, the better they were feeling in the box. It felt like it was a matter of time until it happened."
With four double plays and a handful of defensive gems turned behind him, Leake finished eight innings for the third time this season. He scattered five hits while pulling his ERA down to 2.97. The win snapped a four-game losing skid for Leake, who last picked up a victory on May 24.
"Going into the game, you know Mike is going to get his ground balls, so the infield has to be ready," DeJong said. "He's going to make pitches and we have to make plays. Those double plays really helped us out tonight and allowed him to go so late in the game."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Gone streaking: The first of Molina's two two-run singles extended his hitting streak to 15 games, the longest active streak in the Majors. It also assured the Cardinals of not squandering another run-scoring opportunity off Roark. After stranding four runners over two innings, the Cards opened the third with two walks and an infield single that Roark mistakenly tried to grab with his bare hand. Molina followed with a single up the middle to start the scoring.
Phamtastic catch: Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham changed the tenor of this game immediately when he robbed Brian Goodwin of a leadoff home run. Goodwin drilled Leake's second pitch of the game 406 feet with an exit velocity of 99.3 mph per Statcast™, but Pham timed his leap early to add another defensive highlight to his season resume.
"Great play, right at the beginning," Matheny said. "We talked about him setting the tone a couple times. That's another one. That's a terrific play. His energy and the way he goes about playing the game is contagious. Just really impressive to watch him continue to take that opportunity and make the most of it."
Nationals star Bryce Harper was injured in the first inning when an overthrown ball to first base hit his ankle as he made his way near the plate, but he was OK and remained in the game. Although the attempted double play was not converted, leaving Harper safe at first, he sat on the ground in apparent pain for a couple of minutes.
"Bryce got hit on that bone on the ankle on the overthrow. And then it sort of numbs your lower leg and ankle. But the more he played on it, the better he was. I think he's OK," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "We were tempted to take him out, but it seemed like after a few moments, the feeling came back and we certainly don't need to sustain any more injuries, especially to one of our top players."
"We've got Trea [Turner out], and now the only thing I could think was: 'Well, now we've got Bryce.' It was kind of scary for everybody. In the dugout, everybody was like, 'Wow.' And then we saw him walking, and we said, 'OK, it's not that bad.' And then when he said he wanted to stay in the game, it was like, 'OK, at least we know that he's good.'" -- Jose Lobaton
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
A successful replay review helped the Cardinals extend the seventh inning. Initially ruled out on a bang-bang play at first base, Pham was awarded an infield single when the call was overturned following a 31-second review. The Cardinals loaded the bases as a result, but reliever Joe Blanton pitched out of the jam.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: The first time Gio Gonzalez saw the Cardinals this season, he pitched seven innings and gave up just two runs (one earned) en route to an 8-3 win. He'll face them again on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. ET, this time at Busch Stadium, looking for his eighth win of the year.
Cardinals: In addition to turning 26 years old on Saturday, Michael Wacha will start the 6:15 p.m. CT game against the Nationals. Wacha might have saved his spot in the rotation with a strong six-inning start his last time out. The last time he faced the Nationals at Busch Stadium (September 2013), Wacha took a no-hitter two outs into the ninth.