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Must C Classic: Oscar Taveras homers for first ML hit

ST. LOUIS -- Oscar Taveras paused for a moment to admire the flight of the baseball, but as he rounded the bases his expression hardly changed. 

All the hype and all the expectations, and Taveras had delivered in his Major League debut. Yet the grin on his face never cracked into a smile as he crossed home plate. 

"We were in a stalemate, and we needed somebody to step up," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He did it."

The 21-year-old rookie drove a pitch into the right-field bullpen for his first Major League hit in the fifth inning Saturday afternoon, giving the Cardinals a lead. Michael Wacha provided another quality start, and the Cards fended off two rain delays to snap their three-game losing streak with a 2-0 win over the Giants at Busch Stadium. 

Taveras stepped to the plate for his first Major League at-bat to a standing ovation in the second inning. The much-anticipated at-bat ended on the third pitch in a routine flyout to left field.

Three innings later, he batted as rain began to fall. The rookie, ranked as baseball's No. 2 prospect, took a second-pitch curveball left over the plate and launched it 418 feet over the fence in right. 

"Everybody knows it's gone," Taveras said. "That's what was going through my head."

"That was the one mistake I made today," Giants starter Yusmeiro Petit added. 

Taveras jogged around the bases as rain began to pour down, and he was encouraged back on to the field for an ovation when he reached the dugout.

His at-bat had nearly not happened as weather delayed the game 47 minutes just one pitch after he emerged from the dugout for the curtain call. The grounds crew had started to get up when Taveras made contact. 

To that point, Wacha had cruised through five innings, allowing only two baserunners -- one on a double and the other a hit batter. The rain delay marked the fifth of the season for Wacha.

"I felt good going up there and felt good going back out there after the rain delay as well," Wacha said. "It's pretty crazy how much it rains. I'm pretty used to it, used to the routine in between."

Wacha faced only one threat when the Giants put runners on the corners with two outs in the sixth after the delay. He kept the Giants off the board with a three-pitch strikeout, his seventh and final of the game, when first baseman Michael Morse swung through a 71 mph changeup.

Eight outs after play resumed, another torrential downpour sent the teams back to their clubhouses. Wacha was back on the mound in the seventh, when the rain began to fall again. The second delay, which lasted 51 minutes, effectively removed him from the game after throwing 94 pitches.

"This guy is going to be tough as nails if he's not already," Matheny said. "All the different tests he's been thrown through and how he answers, he just keeps coming back."

Wacha ended his day tossing six-plus innings while allowing three hits. The outing gives Wacha quality starts in 10 of 12 appearances this season. He has yet to allow more than three runs in any start. 

The 22-year-old right-hander also has a new stat to his credit with six weather delays this season totaling six and a half hours. 

"It's kind of frustrating, but it's baseball," Wacha said. "You can't do anything when it rains. You've just got to let it rain. It's nothing new to me, so it's just something you have to deal with, really."

Reliever Sam Freeman pitched a scoreless seventh in relief, striking out two.

The Cardinals added insurance in the bottom half of the seventh after Allen Craig extended his hitting streak to seven games with a leadoff single. He came around on a two-out double by shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

Pat Neshek tossed a scoreless eighth, his 22nd consecutive scoreless appearance out of the bullpen. Trevor Rosenthal struck out the side to earn his 16th save of the season.

The bullpen closed out the win striking out six of the nine Giants hitters it faced for the Cardinals' 10th shutout of the season, tied for the league best. 

"Once I came out, the bullpen took over and did an excellent job," Wacha said. "They faced the minimum -- nine up and nine down -- and you don't see that very often. They did a good job preserving that win."

With the help of the Cardinals' new rookie phenom, of course. Who tried all he could to hold back the smile before he simply couldn't any longer. 

Finally, when he reached the dugout, his face cracked.

"Even when he came across the plate, he was kind of holding back," Matheny said. "He let it loose once he got into the dugout. That curtain call was very special, you could see he was beaming after that."

All the hype and all the expectations, and all it took for him to give in was some urging from teammates. 

"Everybody said, 'Just go smile, you hit a home run,'" Taveras said. "So I smiled. That was good, it was awesome."

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