July 19, 2008

Three more homers with a side of Molina-style "RiBIes"



After last night's game, Cardinal Nation might prefer their next helping of "ribbies" done Molina-style. The Cards' catcher so well-known throughout the majors for his reluctance to strike out proved the contact hitting produced by the skill can mean more than hitting into inning-ending double plays.



Indeed, Molina's ability to put bat to ball can also have the effect of making things happen. For instance, a two-RBI single. Molina's "ribbies" gave the Cardinals the go-ahead runs, breaking a 7-7 tie in the eighth inning.



The recently red hot bats of the St. Louis Cardinals overshadowed a weak outing by starter Braden Looper in a game that saw 18 runs on 29 hits, a slugfest which ended with the Padres outdone for the second night in a row.



Starting Padres' pitcher Greg Maddux only lasted one inning longer than Looper at four, leaving the game when it was tied at 6-all. With both starters out early, each team used five relievers to get through the balance of the game. Kyle McClellan (2-4) would end up with the win, while the Padres' Heath Bell was charged with the loss.



The Cardinals drew first blood when Rick Ankiel singled home both Albert Pujols and Troy Glaus in the first inning, the Cards ahead 2-0.



Looper was up on a lot of his pitches, becoming more inefficient with each inning he threw. The Padres did not score in the first, but got on the board in the second on a grapefruit pitch that the season-long struggling Khalil Greene drove to the opposite field, a first row shot in right, luckily, with no one on base.



With a 2-1 score, nothing was out of control, but Looper continued to struggle. To help himself along, he sacrifce bunted Cesar Izturis to second base in the second inning. Izturis took the next base on his own, stealing thrid. Brendan Ryan then got Izturis home on an infield ground out.



The 3-1 lead wouldn't last long. In the next inning, Looper asked for trouble when he hit Edgar Gonzalez with a pitch. The Padres' Brian Giles, Adrian Gonzalez, and Kevin Kouzmanoff then punished Looper and the Cards with back to back to back singles, the trio of basehits collectively producing a couple runs and tying the game at 3-each.



The Padres continued the hit parade in the fourth after Maddux held the Cards scoreless. On a play that saw two Cardinals known for their outstanding defensive skills each commit a throwing error, for those moments, the Busch Stadium crowd might've thought they were at a youth league game. With Padres' Nick Hundley on second, Maddux laid down a bunt which Molina pounced upon and fired to Glaus at third. Except that Molina's throw was nowhere near Glaus, shooting into left field where Skip Schumaker scooped it up and threw home in a belated attempt to get Hundley at the plate. Albert Pujols cut off Schumaker's throw, however, spinning and firing to Cesar Izturis covering second when Maddux tried to advance on Schumaker's throw home. Pujols' throw went wide, the ball shooting into center field where Rick Ankiel scooped it up and fired to third base in an attempt to stop Maddux from advancing once more, another belated throw that Glaus had to block in order to halt the circus production. The Padres took a 4-3 lead on a play that had to have had the TV camera crew in a frenzy.



Looper's problems didn't end there, though. With Maddux on third base after laying down a sac-bunt, the Padres' leadoff man, Jody Gerut, jacked one into the right field seats, stunning the haphazard Cardinals, the Padres taking full advantage of the Cardinals' defensive miscues as well as Looper's difficulties on the hill. Now up 6-3, the Padres were praying that Cards' manager Tony La Russa would leave Looper on the mound.



La Russa had seen enough, however, having stuck with his starter as long as he could have under the circumstances. La Russa brought Brad Thompson from the bullpen, the called up and sent down pitcher that had proven himself on both the major league and Triple-A levels in recent weeks. Willing to take on any role La Russa had for him, Thompson had, out of circumstance, formulated into a middle relief specialist. He would fill that role last night, working two-and-a-third innings, giving up one run while striking out four. The lead may have swung back to the Padres during Thompson's relief appearance, but only by one run at 7-6, keeping the Cardinals well within striking distance and getting them far enough into the game where La Russa could pick and choose his relievers in a more strategic and efficient manner.



What had also helped keep the Cardinals in the game was a three-run homer in the fourth by Ryan Ludwick. The three-RBI round-tripper was made possible by a couple of two-out singles, one by Brendan Ryan, followed by Schumaker.



In the seventh, Ankiel hit his 22nd homer of the season, a blast that cleared the right field bullpen by six or seven rows. The solo shot tied the game at 7-7.



The go-ahead hit came in the eighth, when Molina punched an outside pitch off the glove of Padres' second baseman Edgar Gonzalez, the ball rolling on into right field. The bases were loaded at the time, due to a Pujols single, a Glaus walk, and an Ankiel infield single on which Padres' pitcher Heath Bell failed to cover first base in time.



Ankiel was later thrown out at home on a disputed play in which Padres' catcher Nick Hundley may missed the tag. Nonetheless, the called out stood. Chris Duncan supplied a pinch hit single, however, bringing home Molina to make it 10-7.



Aaron Miles provided another pitch hit, scoring Izturis and putting up an insurance run, the score 11-7, how the game would finish.



The bullpen held up much better last night, La Russa using, in order after pulling Looper: Thompson, Villone, Springer, McClellan, and Isringhausen. Villone worked from within an inning, two outs worth. The latter relievers each worked one full inning.



Regardless of who was in any particular spot in the lineup, the Cardinals got at least one hit out of every lineup position.



Izturis stole two bases, leading the team with 10.



Pujols went 3-for-4 with a walk, his only out a scortched line drive caught in center field.


Pujols' .354 average is tops on the team.



The defensive play of the game was Ron Villone's falling, sprawling reception while covering first base to complete a double play.



The Cardinals now lead the four-game home series with the Padres, 2-0.



photo by SD Dirk