NEW YORK — The St. Louis Cardinals started joking as Randy Choate put on Randal Grichuk’s batting gloves in the ninth inning.
The fun in the dugout increased as he took Michael Wacha’s bat and headed to home plate for the first time in more than a decade, and there was lots laughter when the reliever drew a walk.
With an eight-run lead, it’s pretty easy to kid around.
Grichuk had three extra-base hits and drove in three runs a night after striking out five times, Mark Reynolds homered among his three hits and the Cardinals teed off on Mets starter Jonathon Niese for a 10-2 victory over New York on May 19.
“I just don’t want to get hit,” Choate said after his first plate appearance since April 26, 2004, with Arizona. “I’m not a good hitter.”
He didn’t need to be.
After his team went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position in a 2-1, 14-inning loss Monday night, Cardinals Manager Matt Matheny loaded his lineup with right-handers to face the lefty Niese, leaving Jason Heyward, Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams on the bench.
The new look order broke out to match the Cardinals’ season high for hits, set on April 28 against Philadelphia — Wacha was the recipient of that largess, too. The NL Central leaders upped the majors best record to 26-13 with their fourth win in 10 games.
Every starter had a hit except for Matt Holliday, who added a sacrifice fly, and the Cardinals went 6 for 14 with runners in scoring position. Wacha contributed a safety squeeze in the second to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead, and he bunted for a single in the six-run sixth, when second baseman Daniel Murphy failed to cover first.
“Just good, tough at-bats all the way through,” Matheny said.
Wacha (6-0) gave up a two-run homer to Murphy in seven innings of four-hit ball to join the Mets’ Bartolo Colon and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez for most wins in the majors. The six wins are a career high for the 23-year-old right-hander.
“It’s always good whenever you’re on the mound with that kind of run support,” Wacha said.
In a matchup between two of the NL’s top 10 ERA leaders only Wacha lived up to the billing.
Niese (3-4) had his second straight rough outing. After giving up six runs to the Cubs on May 14, he was off from the first batter, a single by Peter Bourjos.
“He didn’t have his two-seam fastball,” Manager Terry Collins said. “Every time he called it, or it was called for, it either went straight or he cut it and a lot of them, instead of cutting away from the barrel, came into the barrel.”
Grichuk followed with an RBI double off the wall in left. Grichuk tripled off the glove of center fielder Juan Lagares leading off the third and added a two-run double in the sixth.
“Definitely try to flush it,” Grichuk said of a May 17 five-K performance. “It’s not easy to forget about it period, but after that first knock in the first I got to relax a little bit.”
The first four batters in the sixth reached on hits, with Kolton Wong’s two-run double chasing Niese, who allowed a career high-tying eight runs and 11 hits.
HOWIE RUMBERG, AP Baseball Writer