Westbrook goes the distance in Cards' victory

Westbrook goes the distance in Cards' victory

Westbrook goes the distance in Cards' victory
DETROIT -- The Cardinals have tumbled in the National League Central standings and labored in their efforts to sustain much winning momentum. But as trying as this month-long stretch has been for the defending World Series champions, they still haven't slipped below .500.

The club has dropped to that .500 mark four separate times this month. But, as they did again on Wednesday, each time the Cardinals have answered with a win. This time it was a 3-1 victory over the Tigers in front of 38,871 fans at Comerica Park, a place where the Cardinals have won just three times in 14 tries.

"My response to whatever our record is is that we're better than whatever it is," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's not a .500 team over there, either. They're going to be right in the thick of things."

A win would have pushed the Tigers to .500 for the first time since May 15. Instead, they were stymied by Jake Westbrook, who tossed his first complete game with the Cardinals.

  • 142 wins
  • 110 wins
"I think," catcher Yadier Molina said, "it's one of the best games I had ever caught from him."

The numbers certainly support such an assessment.

Providing the Cardinals with even more hope that he has emerged from a recent funk, Westbrook built off his last quality start by limiting the Tigers to five hits. He needed only 113 pitches to secure his first complete game since May 16, 2010, attained when he was still pitching for Cleveland.

Westbrook, who has 14 complete games in his career, hadn't pitched more than seven innings in any of his previous 13 starts this season.

"It's a great feeling," he said afterward. "Every time you go out there, you want to finish what you start. But to go out there in the ninth and have an opportunity to do so, it's pretty special."

Westbrook allowed a leadoff batter to reach just once, and Detroit's only run was an unearned one in the third. Daniel Descalso's inability to cleanly field a pop fly that landed in right field's no-man's land that inning allowed Gerald Laird to move up an extra 90 feet. That put Laird in position to score on Austin Jackson's one-out double.

That was the only hit the Tigers recorded with a runner in scoring position off Westbrook. Detroit took eight at-bats in such spots.

"I was frustrated and disappointed with the way [my] last [start] ended because of how well I was throwing through five [innings]," said Westbrook, alluding to the sixth-inning, three-run homer he allowed last Thursday.

"I just wanted to make a conscious effort tonight, as well as I was pitching, to keep doing that and not let up."

His sinker was mostly spot-on, but so, too, were Westbrook's off-speed offerings. He left little over the plate and used the Tigers' aggressiveness to his advantage.

"Tonight's one of those nights, really, I just tip my hat to Westbrook," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He was terrific."

Added Detroit's Ramon Santiago: "We were just trying to get a good approach, but he [had] everything working low."

The win evened Westbrook's record at 6-6 and further affirmed Matheny's pregame assertion that Westbrook looks stronger when pitching on an extra day of rest. Five of Westbrook's wins have come in games where he pitched after at least five days off. He has a 2.50 ERA in those seven starts.

In contrast, Westbrook's ERA is 6.00 in his six starts pitching on normal four days' rest.

"You can just see the ball coming out of his hand better," Matheny said. "Even late in the game ... you still see a lot of life on his fastball. You see a lot of swings and misses on his sinker."

Matheny described the decision to send Westbrook out to start the ninth as an easy one, though Westbrook's leash was short. Had he allowed one baserunner, Matheny was prepared to turn to his bullpen.

Westbrook responded by retiring the side with 12 pitches.

The Cardinals' offense sprayed hits off Tigers starter Rick Porcello all night, though the runs proved to be much more challenging to come by. St. Louis evened the game at 1 in the fifth, when Descalso followed back-to-back singles with a sacrifice fly.

A chance to take the lead in that frame was foiled when Matt Adams was thrown out at home to end the inning. He stumbled while making the turn at third.

The Cardinals did capitalize an inning later to take their first lead in this Interleague series. Matt Holliday's leadoff double was followed by a walk and single from Allen Craig. Molina grounded into a double play with the bases full, allowing Holliday to score.

A balk by reliever Brayan Villarreal and a two-out error by shortstop Jhonny Peralta gave the Cardinals an unearned insurance run in the eighth.

"That extra run," Westbrook noted, "really helped."

Though no one in the St. Louis lineup had a standout game, production was widely dispersed. By the end of the night, all nine players in the lineup had a hit. As a team, St. Louis finished with 12.

"That's the kind of team we should have offensively," Matheny said. "It's getting those timely hits, and we got a couple of those tonight."

The club also receiving encouraging postgame news on Craig, who came out of the game in the eighth after jamming his left wrist while making a diving attempt in right field. X-rays came back negative, and while Craig was still feeling some soreness, he said he doesn't anticipate the injury causing him to miss any time.

"It didn't feel good, but I think I got lucky," Craig said. "I think it could have been much worse."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.