The Redbird Report - That's a Winner!

Everyone saw what Adam Wainwright could do as a closer in last year's playoffs, but he might have been even better as a starter Friday night.

In his first big-league start, Wainwright not only stopped Houston on one run for seven innings, but his 420-foot double to center sparked a three-run third inning as the Cardinals scored their first victory of the season.

And Wainwright's brilliant barehanded grab on Brad Ausmus' squeeze attempt started a rally-crunching double play in the seventh inning. After catcher Yadier Molina had tagged Houston's Chris Burke trying to slide home, he fired to first to retire the dawdling Ausmus on the tail end of the play.

Wainwright also showed some fielding prowess in finishing a 3-6-1 double play by stretching to receive shortstop David Eckstein's relay throw.

Manager Tony La Russa praised Wainwright's overall game.

"He made so many good pitches and he made a couple of defensive plays," La Russa said. "He was outstanding."

As for Molina's play, La Russa said, "It might be the best play I've ever seen by a catcher. I wrote 'great play' all over my (lineup) card. I don't know how you can top it. I'm going to watch that replay a bunch of times.

"And then to have the presence of mind to throw to first is ridiculous."

Wainwright said, "I've never seen an out on a squeeze that gets down. That was really alert of (Molina) to spin and fire that ball 98 miles an hour to first."

While Wainwright, who had a strong spring, continued to establish himself as a starter after relieving all last season, left fielder Chris Duncan served notice that he is going to do better than the .170 he hit against left-handed pitching last year. Duncan cracked a two-run homer off left-hander Wandy Rodriguez to cap the three-run third. He also doubled twice, his second double off left-hander Trever Miller, driving in the Cardinals' final run in the eighth.

Duncan, benched against Mets left-hander Tom Glavine in the first game of the season, is 4-for-5 against lefties so far this year.

With the Cardinals' right-handed-hitting outfielders not providing much punch anyway, La Russa is likely to employ Duncan much more often this year against left-handers.

CARDINALS 4, ASTROS 2: Jason Isringhausen, who had hip surgery last September and missed the postseason, gained his first save of 2007 by allowing only a harmless run in the ninth inning. The save was the 250th of Isringhausen's career. Chris Duncan had three of the Cardinals' six hits -- two doubles and a homer.

NOTES AND QUOTES

--Manager Tony La Russa said that if the middle of his lineup -- 1B Albert Pujols, 3B Scott Rolen, CF Jim Edmonds -- is hitting as it should, the rest of the lineup will be fine, too. "All they have to do is be themselves," La Russa said. "If they are just themselves and you get the other contributions, you have a solid offense."

But, after four games, Pujols is 1-for-13 and Rolen is 2-for-12. Edmonds, who did not play Friday, has had two singles in seven at-bats so far.

--RHP Anthony Reyes will make his first start Saturday night since Game 1 of last year's World Series when he stunned the Tigers.

--RHP Ryan Franklin and LHP Randy Flores combined for a perfect eighth inning ahead of RHP Jason Isringhausen, and that tandem is expected to get more work in that inning as the Cardinals seek a bridge to their closer.

--INF/OF Scott Spiezio, who has had a back problem, pinch-hit Friday and is expected to start Saturday against Astros RHP Roy Oswalt.

--RHP Adam Wainwright's seven-inning effort Friday was the Cardinals' longest of the season.


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