July 22, 2008

Hall homer a recurring nightmare for Cards

Billy Hall did it again, homering late in the game to give the Milwaukee Brewers enough lead to take the game, this time spoiling one of the best outings of St. Louis Cardinals' ace Kyle Lohse has put in all year.

But the home run wasn't off of Lohse. It was off, you guessed it, the Cardinals' bullpen, a baker's dozen worth of pitchers that manager Tony La Russa just couldn't go to when he needed to in the eighth when Lohse was gassed.

Lohse has been a force to be reckoned with on the mound for the Cardinals this season, but tonight he displayed the precision of a surgeon for seven innings, tired, and got hit up for three runs in the eighth.

The Cards jumped on a former Cardinal, Jeff Suppan, Ryan Ludwick crushing a Suppan pitch, taking it over the center field wall. Albert Pujols drove the next pitch to the left-center field wall for a stand-up double, and with two out, Rick Ankiel singled him home, making it 2-0. Molina added a single, but the Cards could make nothing else out of the inning.

Suppan settled down for the second, all the while Lohse, for the Cards, was painted corners at will, getting ahead of almost every hitter he faced.

After a Troy Glaus walk and two outs, Molina tapped his old battery-mate for another hit, a double into the right-center field alley, Glaus scoring the third Cards' run.

Both starters cruised through the fourth, fifth, and sixth with Prince Fielder claiming the first hit for the Brewers in the fifth.

The Brewers made noise in the the seventh after J.J. Hardy ripped a double into the left field corner. When Ryan Braun reached on an infield single, Glaus could only put the ball in his pocket as the Brewers placed men on the corners.

Prince Fielder, who had the only Brewers' hit prior to the inning, found the hole on the left side of the infield, Hardy scoring the Brewers' first run. Still with no one out and men on first and second, Gabe Kapler cracked a hard grounder to Glaus, who sidearmed over to Adam Kennedy covering second, forcing Fielder, the relay to a stretching Pujols at field getting Kapler by a quarter-step for the double play. Hardy scampered to third base on the play.

With Hardy 90 feet away from home, Billy Hall took Lohse to a full count. Hall fouled one pitch off, but Lohse got him swinging on some high heat to get out of the jam, the Cardinals on top, 3-1.
Pujols secured a two-out singling in the seventh with a scorching grounder through the hole on the left side, giving teammate Glaus a shot with his hot bat of late. Glaus flew out to Mike Cameron in center field, however.

Lohse had some trouble in the eighth when Jason Kendall hit a one-out single. R Branyan hit a soft liner to Cesar Izturis a short, but one of last night's Brewers' heros, Rickie Weeks, reached an outside corner fast ball and yanked it into the left-center field gap, scoring Kendall, cutting the lead to 3-2.

Lohse, showing signs of tiring, got a fast ball up to Hardy, who ripped it into left field, Weeks coming around third to score the tying run. The next hitter, Braun, hit into a fielder's choice for the last out.

Brewers' manager Ned Yost brought in reliever Brian Shouse, who put down the Cardinals in order in the eighth, Ankiel, Molina, and Kennedy.

Ron Villone took over for Lohse in the ninth, striking out Fielder looking.

Cards' manager Tony La Russa immediately went to reliever Kyle McClellan.

Hall punished the pen, as he did last night, launching one over the center field wall to give the Brewers a last-inning lead at 4-3.

This time is was McClellan who gave up the longball, but these days, you can take your pick of the Cards' bullpen for traumatic experiences transferred upon starters. In tonight's game, the offense might've given Lohse a little extra breathing room, but they had been producing a lot and they can't do it every game.

In a postgame interview, La Russa grew heated over the questioning of the bullpen, stating that the offense needs to score more. The irritated manager had a point, but on the other hand, the Cardinals won't be facing a string of mediocre pitchers in the NL Central either. To think the Cards' offense will walk all over a pitcher like tonight's starter, for instance, Jeff Suppan, and score a half-dozen or more runs, just isn't going to happen every time.

And if the Cards' offense is going to be challenged with Suppan, just wait until they face C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets in the coming nights.

There's just no hiding the fact that Lohse's presence on the mound past the sixth inning is a rare sight for a reason. The argument could be made that he was pitching so well that he should've gone into the eighth, but take your pick on a call to the bullpen, after the first hit, the second in a row, the third in a row. And these hits weren't flares or swinging bunts. These were all hit quite hard, the full swings from way down south that tell you the Brewers are dialing it up.

The frustation La Russa, the team, and all of Cardinal Nation is facing now, however, is most likely due to the idea that the Cardinals are just one step away from having a team that can contend with anyone. One step, one inning. And that one inning, as witnessed since the Brewers hit the town, can be very, very frustrating.