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Wainwright gives big lift to Cardinals bullpen

ST. LOUIS — As if knowing Trevor Rosenthal sitting there in the Cardinals bullpen to nail down the ninth inning isn’t daunting enough, the Cubs now have to live with knowing that Adam Wainwright is lurking as well.

Wainwright, a three-time time All-Star and four-time top-three finisher in NL Cy Young voting who missed most of the season with a torn right Achilles, hurried back in time to make three appearances at the end of the season and looks as good as ever. He entered in relief in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the NLDS and retired all five Cubs he faced. He escaped from an inherited first-and-third jam by retiring Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro — albeit on sharply hit balls — before striking out the side in the eighth.

The Cubs are fortunate Wainwright isn’t stretched out enough to start. But the Cardinals are fortunate to have him and his big curveball back from an injury that, in April, was said to knock him out for the season.

“He looked great,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after the Cubs’ 6-3 win. “It was nice to stretch him out a little bit. He was so efficient in the first inning.

“His curveball was there, everything right on the mark and he got the strikeouts that we needed. A good step in the right direction for him and his progress.”

Matheny probably couldn’t wait to use him. He had Wainwright up in the pen in the ninth inning of Game 1, kind of like someone showing off the Corvette he usually keeps stored in his garage.

Talk about an ace in the hole.

Matheny called it “getting Adam up and hot and his heart beatin’, and I think part of it’s also telling him what we think of him and how we may use him.”

Rosenthal, who set a Cardinals record with 48 saves this season and leads the majors with 93 over the last two seasons, wasn’t used Saturday, and that, of course, is a bad thing for St. Louis, which was let down by unusually shaky defense that helped the Cubs build a 6-1 lead.

“It’s hard to watch a club that’s played so wall defensively, see a couple of things happen that are kind of uncharacteristic for us,” said Matheny, whose team became unglued in the Cubs’ five-run second and allowed five unearned runs. “But they do happen. We gotta figure out ways to get around ‘em.”

The Cubs can only hope Wainwright, who pitched six scoreless innings in the Cardinals’ 3-0 victory against them on Opening Day at Wrigley Field, three starts before rupturing his right Achilles against the Brewers, doesn’t pitch with a lead.

“There is no position you can put me in on the mound that I haven’t been through,” Wainwright said. “At some point in time, whether I’m young or I’m old, I’ve done it, and it helps me. I’ve been there; I can draw on those moments. I don’t get nervous as a pitcher. It’s very rare that I get nervous.”