June 29, 2008

Cards take Part Two of I-70 Series

The second part of the I-70 series came to a close today in Kansas City with the St. Louis Cardinals taking the rubber match in a see-saw game, 9-6, but with the Cards up from anywhere from two to five runs at any one time.

Albert Pujols was concern for the Royals. Pujols did not play in the Royals' series sweep of the Cards in Busch Stadium in mid-June. Always a dangerous bat, a two-out double to left field in the first inning got Royals' starting pitcher, Brian Bannister's attention, but no runs came of it.
Braden Looper started for the Cardinals, hoping for more offensive production than his teammates have been able to provide on a consistent basis of late. The Cards did score first, but had to provide some exciting defense first.

Reminiscent of last night's game, left fielder Skip Schumaker threw out a Royals base runner at home plate, this time, without the use of a relay man, and unlike yesterday, to catcher Jason LaRue. In last night's tag play at the plate, Molina tagged and spun away from a collision, attaining the putout. LaRue wasn't able to avoid collision in today's first inning play, having to jump just enough to receive Schumaker's throw, then getting bowled over by Mike Aviles. LaRue held on, denying the Royals a chance to score first.

Coincidentally, when the Cards took their at-bats in the top of the second, it was LaRue that supplied the impetus for the initial scoring, clobbering a long two-out fly to right field that got some help from a steady wind, sailing to the back of the Royals' bullpen, worth two runs with Adam Kennedy having been on base at the time.

Up 2-0, Looper cruised through the Royals' second, a good sign for the Cards.

The Cardinals wasted no time going after Bannister in next inning (3rd), Schumaker leading off with a double that hit the base of the right field wall and stopped dead, almost giving him a chance for three. Aaron Miles had to move him over to third with a sacrifice bunt, after which Pujols was intentionally walked to set up the double play. It was up to Rick Ankiel to thwart the Royals' defensive strategy. Ankiel came through with a single to left, a pop-up, actually, that shortstop Aviles lost in the sun. Schumaker scoring easily. Ludwick then walked, loading the bases for Chris Duncan, who singled. Pujols scored and the bases remained full of Redbirds. Adam Kennedy lifted a sacrifice fly to center, Ankiel tagging up and scoring from third base, extending the Cards' lead to 5-0.

The Royals scrapped to get on the board in the third, Joey Gathright reaching on a single, then advancing a base at a time, eventually taking home on a past ball by LaRue.

The fourth inning found the Royals threatening again, getting a couple base runners. Ankiel made a nice running catch on a fly ball for one out. Looper than gave up his fourth walk, loading the bags with Royals for Gathright, who delivered, slapping a basehit through the hole on the left side, the Royals scoring one and re-filled the bags. With the score cut to 5-2 and still in a jam, Looper gave up a single to Esteban German, Ross Gload scoring, cutting the lead further to 5-3, and yet again re-filling the bases. Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa brought in Chris Perez, the Cardinals in trouble with their starter. Perez got Aviles to pop out, an infield fly rule call enforced. Not out of trouble yet, Alex Gordon flew out, ending the Royals' chances for a huge inning.

With the lead reduced to two, the Cards mounted another attack. After a Ludwick single and a Kennedy walk, LaRue hit a two-out triple to deep center, a line drive that Gathright had trouble reading. The play pushed the Cardinals lead to four at 7-3.

The Royals continued to go after the Cards' relievers in the fifth, Gload hitting an RBI sacrifice fly to left, making it 7-4. Perez couldn't make it out of the inning he had created, La Russa opting to bring in Russ Springer with two outs, a tough decision considering the bullpen is somewhat short. Springer struck out Gathright looking, the Royals leaving two on base.

Pujols answered with a two-run homer which Molina caught in the Cardinals' bullpen, Miles scoring ahead of him, having reached on an infield single. The round-tripper was Pujols' 17th, increasing the lead to five again at 9-4.

Jason Isringhausen, who had come on in relief the previous inning, gave up a run and got in a bind in the seventh. Back to back doubles by Mark Grudzielanek and Mark Teahen produced a run, cutting the Cardinals' lead again, at 9-5. When Isringhausen walked John Buck, La Russa brought in McClellan, who got Gathright to ground into a fielder's choice that ended the rally.

McClellan pitched into the eight, but like Isringhausen, got into trouble when Aviles and Gordon singled. La Russa had a choice of Mark Mulder or Ryan Franklin. Franklin got the call. Grudzielanek singled home a run, making it 9-6, but Franklin stopped the bleeding there.

La Russa left Franklin in for the ninth, who closed efficiently, the Cardinals taking the rubber match, and the last portion of the I-70 series.

Looper did not get the victory, missing on his tenth win. Chris Perez picked up the victory, but at the expense of a lot of bullpen besides himself. Bannister was responsible for the loss. Franklin picked up his eleventh save.

The Cardinals now return to St. Louis, just up I-70, after the nine-game road trip that ate up the bulk of the end of June. The Cardinals will start a four-game series against the New York Mets starting tomorrow night shortly after six o'clock, p.m., a game to be broadcast by FSN Midwest (Fox), and picked up nationally as well.