NEW YORK — Just when it seemed the St. Louis Cardinals were getting themselves into trouble, Brett Cecil made one big pitch and the game was over.
Paul DeJong homered against the New York Mets for the fourth straight contest and Adam Wainwright hit an RBI double while winning his fourth consecutive start, sending St. Louis to a 6-3 victory Monday night.
With runners at the corners in the bottom of the ninth inning, slugger Yoenis Cespedes grounded into a game-ending double play on a 3-0 delivery from Cecil.
"That was like Christmas came early, almost," Wainwright said. "If there's anybody in your lineup you want doing that, he's the guy. So, we were ready for him to swing and luckily Brett made a good pitch."
Tommy Pham capped a six-run sixth with a three-run homer on Hansel Robles' second pitch since returning from the minors. Four relievers combined to throw 3 1/3 spotless innings for St. Louis, which took the opener of a four-game series between losing teams that expected much better this season.
New York (41-49) has dropped seven of 10.
"You certainly can't go on a run if you're not going to get consistent pitching," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Michael Conforto and Lucas Duda homered off Wainwright (11-5), who beat scuffling starter Zack Wheeler (3-7) for the second time in 10 days.
Wainwright allowed two earned runs and was removed in the sixth. Moments earlier, Jose Reyes dashed all the way around to score on his own double when rookie right fielder Magneuris Sierra made two errors on the play — booting the ball in the alley before overthrowing third base.
But the Mets managed only two more hits, and Cecil got three outs for his first save since June 19, 2015, with Toronto. The left-hander squandered a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Sunday's 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh.
Conforto snapped a scoreless tie with a leadoff homer in the fifth, but Wheeler quickly faltered in losing his fifth straight decision. The right-hander escaped the fifth unscathed after issuing three two-out walks in a row, but couldn't do the same in the sixth.
"I felt comfortable. I felt strong. I don't know what happened," Wheeler said. "I just tried to slow myself down a little bit and I think I slowed myself down a little too much."
Slow-footed Yadier Molina reached on a rare infield single with a roller toward shortstop leading off the sixth. DeJong then connected on a full-count fastball from Wheeler to put the Cardinals ahead.
The rookie shortstop was 9 for 12 with seven extra-base hits and a homer in each game as the Cardinals took two of three against the Mets in St. Louis from July 7-9. He went 2 for 2 with a homer and a double off Wheeler in the middle game of the series.
No other Cardinals player has ever homered in four consecutive games against the Mets.
"I have to say it's chance, honestly. Just getting good pitches to hit," DeJong said.
Kolten Wong singled and, one out later, Wainwright doubled to right-centre to make it 3-1. He has 10 RBIs this season, most among major league pitchers, after racking up 18 last year.
"We know Waino can hit. You guys know that, too," DeJong said.
Matt Carpenter walked against Josh Edgin before Pham homered into the second deck in left-centre off Robles, demoted to Triple-A on May 23 after serving up a string of home runs.
"I would say the key to that inning was our toughness," Pham said.
ON A ROLL
The 35-year-old Wainwright is 9-2 in his past 12 starts. With his 145th win, he passed Bill Doak for fifth in Cardinals history. "The last couple of weeks I've been commanding things and making the key to my game execution, whether it's hard or slow. Put it where I want and then take your chances, and it seems to be the results are lining up nicely," Wainwright said.
Cardinals: OF Randal Grichuk (lower back strain) could return Thursday, the first day he's eligible to come off the 10-day disabled list. ... LHP Zach Duke is making a speedy recovery from Tommy John surgery last October and might be ready to rejoin the Cardinals' bullpen fairly soon, manager Mike Matheny indicated. Duke is rehabbing at Triple-A Memphis.
Mets: Cespedes was back in the lineup after sitting out Sunday with a sore left hip. ... 2B Neil Walker (left hamstring) did some running and was set to take grounders on the field. Collins said he hopes Walker can begin playing rehab games by this weekend. The switch-hitter has been on the DL since June 15. ... LHP Josh Smoker (strained shoulder) was scheduled to make another rehab appearance for Double-A Binghamton.
Cardinals RHP Michael Wacha (6-3, 4.10 ERA) pitches Tuesday night against RHP Rafael Montero (1-5, 5.77). Wacha is 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in his past three outings and hasn't lost since May 30 against the Dodgers. It will be his first start since July 6.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball