1 of 8 | St. Louis Cardinals Michael Wacha motions to catcher Yadier Molina after getting the third out in the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Busch Stadum in St. Louis on July 1, 2017. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
ST. LOUIS -- Adrian Sanchez was batting in the majors for the first time. Matt Bowman was trying to secure his first big league save.
The duo of youngsters fighting for a little scrap of fame made for an interesting ninth-inning matchup Saturday night, one that might have been settled by an inaccurate call from a young umpire.
Bowman won the nine-pitch at-bat, getting a called third strike on a fastball to strand three men and enable the St. Louis Cardinals to hang on for a 2-1 win over the Washington Nationals at Busch Stadium.
It gave St. Louis manager Mike Matheny his 500th career win and assured Michael Wacha (5-3) of his second straight victory on a night when he tied Hall of Famer Steve Carlton as the second-fastest pitcher in club history to 500 strikeouts.
"A lot of milestones tonight," Wacha said.
In winning its fourth straight game and improving to 39-41, St. Louis survived a wild ninth. Newly minted closer Trevor Rosenthal couldn't shut the door, allowing a two-out RBI single to Stephen Drew and walking .135-hitting Jose Lobaton to fill the bases.
Matheny, who has been trying to reconfigure roles for a bullpen that has been one of the shakiest in the game, hooked Rosenthal for Bowman. The durable Bowman, who has appeared in 39 of 80 games this year, joked about getting the call for the 27th out.
"Just as I figured -- I was pretty much the last option," he grinned.
Bowman quickly obtained two strikes on Sanchez, a 26-year-old infielder who was called up Friday when shortstop Trea Turner went on the 10-day disabled list with a broken right wrist.
Sanchez didn't succumb feebly, though. He fouled off a pitch, looked at three balls and spoiled two more pitches with foul balls.
Then the 3-2 pitch arrived, appearing to be off the outside corner. But plate umpire Manny Gonzalez, who's working just his fifth full year in the majors, punched out Sanchez to end the 27-minute inning.
Washington manager Dusty Baker was calm but chagrined by the call.
"You hate to have an at-bat like that end on what apparently was a bad call," he said. "The kid's trying to make a living, too. He's trying to make his mark. We knew we were down to our last man, but we knew he was going to battle. It just wasn't fair to him."
Bowman said he thought his pitch ran back to the outside corner.
"I thought after that first pitch, we might be able to throw the same pitch over and over," Bowman said, "but give (Sanchez) credit. He adjusted and battled."
The result made a hero out of Cardinals rookie second baseman Alex Mejia, who packed his first big league hit, homer and curtain call into two hours and 53 minutes of baseball.
Making his second start, Mejia broke the scoring seal in the second, lining a 3-2 pitch from Gio Gonzalez (7-3) into center field to plate Luke Voit. In the eighth, Mejia laced the first pitch of the inning from Sammy Solis 390 feet into the left-field seats for the run that ultimately made the difference.
"It was a really neat feeling," Mejia said of the homer. "Early in the at-bat, I want to get the bat head out because you don't want to get beat. Luckily, he gave me a fastball and it worked out."
Wacha displayed perhaps his best stuff of the year, fanning a season-high nine in six shutout innings and allowing only four hits along with a walk. He picked up strikeouts in every inning but the second, distancing himself further from a stretch where he failed to complete five innings in five of six starts.
Gonzalez absorbed a second straight loss in which he gave up just two hits and a run. In seven innings, he walked two and tied a season high with nine strikeouts.
It wasn't enough to give him a win on a night where the opponent pitched just a touch better and got the benefit of the final call.
"I thought I had walked, but he called it a strike," Sanchez said. "There's nothing I can do about it."
NOTES: Washington designated RHP Jacob Turner for assignment and activated LHP Sammy Solis (left elbow inflammation) from the 60-day DL. Turner was 2-3 with a 5.08 ERA in 18 appearances for the Nationals, 16 of them as a reliever. ... St. Louis 1B Matt Carpenter didn't start for just the eighth time in 80 games Saturday night, with rookie Luke Voit getting his second career start at 1B. ... Cardinals LHP Kevin Siegrist (cervical spine strain) threw a bullpen session Saturday, the first time he's thrown off a mound since going on the 10-day DL Sunday. Siegrist could return before the All-Star break.