July 28, 2008

Looper deals, Mather launches, Molina runs and runs and runs

The Cards caught the Atlanta Braves at a time when some of their main players were just going on the DL and Braden Looper was throwing strong.
Not to mention that the Braves' slated pitcher, Jo-Jo Reyes, was unavailable due to having to pitch in, literally, when the Braves' had a rain delayed game yesterday and the starter could not make it back when play had been resumed. Actually, Reyes was optioned to Triple-A Richmond to make room for Charlie Morton, who had just been optioned to Richmond on Saturday.

Back came Morton for today's game, a rush deal as Braves' manager Bobby Cox didn't even have the option of upping his rotation, Tuesday's scheduled starter, Tim Hudson, also going on the DL.

Even worse for the Braves, Chipper Jones, the NL's leading hitter, went on the 15-day DL with a left hamstring strain.

So Looper and the Cardinals caught Atlanta in a down year and at their most banged up all season. But the Cards would have to take advantage of the situation in order to benefit. Not usually on that side of the injury equation, the Cardinals enjoyed hitting against a young pitcher throwing to a Class-A replacement catcher in Clint Sammons from the Myrtle Beach affiliate.

Morton couldn't make it through four complete, giving up eight runs on seven hits and walking four (one intentional). Recent call-up Joe Mather (Triple-A Memphis) launched one twenty rows up in the left field seats in the Cardinal second with Yadier Moline on base to put the Cards up 2-0. In the next inning, Troy Glaus grounded home Skip Schumaker with the bases loaded to make it 3-0.

Then something Cardinal Nation may never see again took place. Yadier Molina rounded the bases, off a double to deep center, actually, Pujols and Glaus scoring, Molina able to advance on a wild throw to the plate with no back up and a crazy deflection that caused the ball to roll up the first base side near the wall. By the time Molina crossed the plate (it took quite a while), the Cards were up 6-0.

Another inning later, and Pujols hit a sac-fly that scored Cesar Izturis. Ryan Ludwick would then single home Aaron Miles to go up 8-0.

All the while the Braves were throwing rainbows from the outfield, missing cutoff men and misplaying ground balls, Braden Looper was eating up innings, scoreless and efficient. It wasn't until the fourth that the Braves got their first hit. It was as if the Cards had the chance to play in the Mets' spikes of yesterday, only with Looper mastering the strike zone instead of Johan Santana.

And the hits kept coming, Mather singling, and after advancing to second on a wild pitch, Izturis came through with a two-out basehit to score Mather, tacking on a run to make it 9-0.

Atlanta put together three hits to produce a couple runs in the sixth, but Looper held them scoreless in the seventh, his work over with a 9-2 lead, having scattered seven hits and striking out four in a 106-pitch workout.

Before Ron Villone would take over for Looper to start the eighth, the Cards would add some insurance runs, Pujols doubling home Izturis and Miles, followed by Ludwick singling home Pujols. Villone would get to start off the bottom of the frame with a 12-2 lead.

After striking out the first two batters, Villone would give up a single, a double, then two walks, producing a run. Manager Tony La Russa would have to call in Russ Springer to relieve Villone, the score now 12-3. Springer only needed one pitch to get out of the inning, throwing a fly out.

Randy Flores got the call to close, pitching coach Dave Duncan having spotted something in his delivery that was faulty, and with the big lead, a chance to see if Flores could make the adjustment. Flores threw a ground out, gave up a single, then threw another ground ball that would lead to an inning- and game-ending double play.

The Cards took the first game of the four-game set with a chance to play with a lead and without stress for the first time since the sweep of the San Diego Padres over a week ago. To the Cardinals advantage, neither Jason Isringhausen nor Ryan Franklin nor Kyle McClellan had to pitch.
photos by Barbara Moore