Game Report: Cardinals 2, Nationals 1

By Rob Rains

Michael Wacha celebrated his 26th birthday in style on Saturday night at Busch Stadium, but it was Alex Mejia who took home the best presents from the evening.

Mejia had two baseballs in his locker after the game; one from his first hit, and RBI, in the major leagues, a single in the second inning, and the second was the one he hit into the left field stands in the eighth for his first career homer which gave the Cardinals the victory.

That win wasn’t secure until after a tense ninth inning, when the Nationals scored once off Trevor Rosenthal and had the bases loaded with two outs before Matt Bowman got the final out, a called third strike against Adrian Sanchez – in his first career at-bat in the majors – which appeared to be outside.

Wacha turned in his best start of the season, working six scoreless innings. He allowed only four hits and walked one while striking out a season-high nine batters.

The win was the fourth in a row for the Cardinals and sixth in their last seven games. It also was Mike Matheny’s 500th career win since he became the Cardinals’ manager.

“I’m glad I helped him get one of those,” Mejia said.

Here is how the game broke down:

At the plate: Mejia was one of five players in the starting lineup for the Cardinals who played at least 11 games in Memphis this season as the Cardinals started an all right-handed hitting lineup against lefthander Gio Gonzalez. The other four were Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Luke Voit and Paul DeJong … Yadier Molina tied his career high with a hit in his 16th consecutive game, a single in the fourth inning … That was the only hit for the Cardinals other than the two by Mejia before Grichuk doubled with two outs in the eighth inning.

On the mound: Wacha became only the second Cardinals pitcher since 1999 to work six shutout innings on his birthday. Lance Lynn did it in 2015 against the Indians. It was the second time Wacha threw six scoreless innings, also doing it on May 19 against the Giants. He left after throwing 94 pitches … Brett Cecil relieved and pitched a scoreless seventh. Since switching from number 21 to number 27 on June 16, the number he wore in Toronto, Cecil has worked eight scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and one walk, while striking out six … Seung Hwan Oh got two outs, pitching around an error, before Tyler Lyons got the final out in the eighth … Rosenthal walked two and allowed two hits, including an RBI single to Stephen Drew, before he was lifted after two outs and 27 pitches … Bowman’s final pitch to Sanchez was the ninth pitch of the at-bat, giving him his first major-league save.

Key stat: During his 16-game hitting streak, Molina has gone 21-of-63, a .333 average. It’s the third time he has hit safely in 16 consecutive games in his career, all in the last two seasons. He is the only major-leaguer this season to have two streaks of at least 15 games.

Draft update: The Cardinals have signed 14th round selection Donivan Williams, an infielder from Chicago, reportedly to a bonus of $300,000. He turned down a scholarship offer from Illinois State … The Cardinals also have reportedly reached an agreement with their eighth-round pick, right-hander Wilberto Rivera from Puerto Rico, pending a physical. The deadline for teams to sign players is next Friday.

Worth noting: Despite being restricted from signing players for more than $300,000 bonuses, the Cardinals expect to be active when the international free agent signing period begins on Sunday … One of the reasons Matt Carpenter got Saturday night off was his 5-for-40 slump in his last 12 games. Another was the fact Washington starter Gio Gonzalez had held lefthanders to a .172 average so far this season … Zach Duke pitched a scoreless inning for the second day in a row for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, recording two strikeouts … Aledmys Diaz played his first game since being optioned to Memphis on Saturday night and doubled in his first two at-bats.

Looking ahead: One of the best pitching matchups of the season is scheduled for Sunday night when Carlos Martinez will start against St. Louis native Max Scherzer as the Cardinals try to complete the series sweep. The game will be televised by ESPN.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains