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Cardinals cash in on early mistakes, hold on late to complete sweep of Padres

The Cardinals have won eight games in a row, 10 of their last 11 and are a season-best 10 games over .500
Credit: AP
St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Giovanny Gallegos and catcher Andrew Knizner celebrate an 8-7 victory over the San Diego Padres in a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS — The difference between the Cardinals and Padres these days can be told in the tale of what happened on two pitches in the first inning of Sunday’s game at Busch Stadium.

Fernando Tatis Jr. drove the first pitch of the game to right field, where Dylan Carlson’s back slammed against the wall as he made a leaping catch.

“Those are big momentum plays and everybody feels that, nobody more than the pitchers,” said starting pitcher J.A. Happ. “Every out is important, and we see that each game we play.”

In the bottom of the inning, Tatis — playing center field instead of his normal shortstop position — dropped a routine fly ball, letting one run score and opening the door to a five-run inning that carried the Cardinals to the win and a sweep of the three-game series.

The Padres did battle back but the Cardinals were able to hang on for the win, only the second time this season they won a game in which they allowed seven or more runs.

When the Padres arrived in town on Friday, they trailed the Cardinals by just a half-game in the race for the second wild-card spot. They left town 3 ½ back and seemingly falling apart as the Cardinals have taken control of that race with two weeks left in the regular season.

The Cardinals have won eight games in a row, 10 of their last 11 and are a season-best 10 games over .500. The Reds’ loss to the Dodgers left them three games behind the Cardinals while the Phillies also were 3 back before their game on Sunday night. In their last nine games, against wild-card contenders Cincinnati, New York and San Diego, the Cardinals were 8-1.

“It’s been fun to see the intensity we’ve been bringing,” Happ said. “To start the game the way we started today, it’s great. We want to continue that … we like the way we are playing for sure.”

Here is how Sunday’s game broke down:

At the plate: The error by Tatis came on a fly ball hit by Nolan Arenado after the Cardinals had loaded the bases with nobody out on a double by Tommy Edman, a single by Paul Goldschmidt and a walk to Tyler O’Neill. Carlson followed with a sacrifice fly before Edmundo Sosa and Harrison Bader hit consecutive doubles to cap the inning … O’Neill had an RBI single in the fifth following a double by Goldschmidt, and Sosa drove in his second run of the game with another double … O’Neill has at least one RBI in the Cardinals’ last five games … He scored three runs, also coming home on a single by Carlson in the seventh … Arenado remained stuck on 99 RBIs for the season for the third consecutive game … The Cardinals’ home run streak was snapped at 10 consecutive games.

On the mound: Despite the big early lead, Happ could not pitch long enough to qualify for the win, leaving for a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning. He allowed three runs on four hits, needing 75 pitches to get 12 outs … Alex Reyes was credited with the win, allowing only a solo home run to former Cardinal Tommy Pham in his two innings of work … The Padres cut the lead to 8-7 with three runs in the eighth, two charged to Luis Garcia, ending his steak of consecutive scoreless innings at 25 … Genesis Cabrera protected the lead with a 1-2-3 ninth, recording two strikeouts … The only other win for the Cardinals this season allowing seven or more runs was a 9-8 victory over the Rockies on May 8. They are now 2-30 in those games.

Key stat: The five runs marked the Cardinals’ biggest first inning against the Padres in the history of Busch Stadium 3 and the biggest at home since scoring 11 runs in the opening inning on May 8, 2005. They have scored a combined 13 runs in the first inning in their last four games.

Worth noting: The Cardinals still hope to get both Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson back in some capacity before the end of the regular season, but it likely won’t be this week. Flaherty, out with a strain of his right shoulder, will throw a live batting practice session on Tuesday in Milwaukee before the Cardinals determine the next step for his return. They also decided to have Hudson make one more rehab start, on Wednesday for Memphis, as he works to return from Tommy John surgery last September … It wasn’t a good weekend for Tatis Jr., who came to town as one of the favorites for the NL MVP award but got only one more hit than he had errors and fights in the dugout, two to one. He was a combined 2-of-13 in the three games with one RBI. Both hits were singles.

Looking ahead: The Cardinals begin their final road trip of the regular season on Monday with the first of four games in Milwaukee, where the Brewers have clinched a playoff spot but are still trying to wrap up the NL Central title. Jake Woodford will get the start.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains