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SD@STL: Wainwright strikes out seven through eight

ST. LOUIS -- It was long assumed to be an historic pace too unbelievable to be sustained. And yet, there continues to be no regression when it comes to the Cardinals' effectiveness when hitting with runners in scoring position.

Another two hits in such spots on Sunday drove home three runs, just enough to lift the Cardinals, 3-2, over the Padres and make Adam Wainwright the National League's first 13-game winner. The victory, which came in front of 44,033 at Busch Stadium, pushed the Cardinals back to 22 games over .500.

It would not, however, be sealed with ease. Edward Mujica tiptoed around trouble in the ninth -- getting a break on a ball bouncing into the stands and an assist on a game-saving catch by Allen Craig -- to seal his 28th save.

"That was pretty dramatic," said Craig, who made the leaping grab against the left-field wall with the potential tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.

Long before he saved Mujica, Craig was in the middle of the Cardinals' offensive productivity. Both of Sunday's run-scoring hits came in the third, which opened with a Matt Carpenter double.

After Yadier Molina walked, Craig drove Carpenter in with a single. Craig, now hitting .489 with runners in scoring position, has accumulated 20 hits and 28 RBIs in his last 29 chances with a runner on second and/or third.

"I almost start running as he starts his swing because I know it's going to be a hit," Carpenter said of Craig. "Seriously, if I've scored 80 times, I feel like he's driven me in 79 of them. When guys are out there, he's going to find a way to drive you in. It's amazing."

David Freese followed Craig's game-tying hit with a two-run double off Padres starter Eric Stults that scooted past a diving Alexi Amarista in center. For Freese, it was his first multi-RBI game since June 25.

"Obviously," Freese said, "that's been a trouble aspect of my game this season, and that gets frustrating."

The first-place Cardinals remain baseball's only team with a winning percentage north of .600, and that's due in large part to that timely hitting.

The qualifier of a small sample size is now gone 96 games into the season -- and in fact, the deeper the season goes, the more productive the Cardinals have been.

At the end of April, the team was batting .327 with runners in scoring position. A month later, the average was up to .333. Three months in, it sat at .335. And after going 2-for-5 with runners in scoring position on Sunday, the Cardinals now boast a mark of .338. No team in baseball history has even come close to maintaining such a pace.

"We just have a lot of guys who want to be up in those big spots," Craig said. "We're selfish, in that we all want to get the job done. I think it helps that we have so many good hitters on the team, so one guy doesn't necessarily have to feel like he has to hit a home run in his spot to drive in all of them. It's kind of like a 'pass-the-baton' kind of thing. We've had a relentless approach."

The benchmark for a 162-game season remains .311, an average achieved by the 2007 Tigers and 1996 Rockies. Over the last 40 years, only 13 teams have finished a season batting at or above .300 with runners in scoring position. The next most productive NL team in such spots this season is the Rockies, who entered Sunday batting .264.

"I think it's just become the norm and expectation," manager Mike Matheny said. "They're taking a lot of pride with runners in scoring position, especially with two outs, to get that big hit and pick us up."

A well-rested Wainwright gave the Cardinals his eighth start of at least eight innings this year. Already the league leader in innings pitched, Wainwright joins Detroit's Max Scherzer, Tampa Bay's Matt Moore and Oakland's Bartolo Colon as the only pitchers to win 13 games.

The Padres scored twice off Wainwright, using a leadoff double to manufacture a run both times. Everth Cabrera scored from third on a two-out single in the first. In the sixth, Carlos Quentin came home when Wainwright induced a double play.

Wainwright, who allowed the leadoff batter to reach seven times, stalled potential Padres rallies in the next two innings. He stranded Logan Forsythe on third with a called third strike against All-Star shortstop Cabrera in the seventh.

"That's one of the key at-bats," Wainwright said of the nine-pitch battle. "If I put Cabrera on right there and Chase [Headley] comes up to the plate, he's capable of a three-run shot at any point."

In the next frame, a Quentin double play erased a leadoff single. Wainwright ended the inning -- and his outing -- with his seventh strikeout.

With Wainwright's pitch count at 103, Mujica took the game into his hands in the ninth. It was dicey from the get-go. Mujica beat Will Venable to first on a bang-bang play to record the first out. With a runner on first, Shane Robinson tracked a deep fly ball for the second.

Pinch-hitter Jesus Guzman then sent a double down the line in left that had a chance to plate Amarista from first. Opinions on whether it would differed based on perspective.

"No doubt, no doubt [he scores]," Padres manager Bud Black said. "Where Craig was and Alexi's speed, no doubt."

"It looked like Allen was in a good spot to get a good bounce off the wall," added Matheny. "But that's if everything went perfect. It would have probably been a train wreck at home plate though."

Craig ended the possibility of a comeback with a catch that evoked memories of Nelson Cruz and Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.

"I wasn't playing that deep and he just hit it straight over my head," Craig said. "It stayed up just long enough."

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