July 26, 2008

Three-oh-one right on time for Pujols in fourteenth

Albert Pujols ended his home run drought tonight, his two-run blast in the fourteenth inning his first since July 4. The two-run homer also helped end the Cardinals' five-game skid, the early morning win evening the three-game series with the New York Mets at one game apiece.

The Cardinals went through lows, highs, but mostly gut-wrentching moments in tonight's extra inning 10-8 win, using all but one member of the bullpen.

The Cards seemed ready for the inevitable late inning letdown, but when reliever Kyle McClellan struck out the side in the eighth, the Cards seemed to get a mental boost, a momentum with which to end the losing streak, to somehow hold off the Mets where they had failed in the late innings during their nightmare series versus the Brewers.

The Cardinals came out with guns blazing in Shea Stadium tonight, scoring four runs in the first inning, off of Mets' starter Brandon Knight, making his first major league start. Knight had been in the big leagues years before, but just got called up from Double-A Akron to pitch tonight.

Joel Pineiro had a rough start, himself, giving up two in the bottom half of the frame. Pineiro would only make it through four innings, allowing five runs on 10 hits, the Cards down 5-4.

Jason Isringhausen took over, walking the leadoff hitter but getting through the inning without giving up a run.

The Mets would get five full innings out of their starter, the Cards picking on his relief, Carlos Muniz, in the sixth, rallying for four runs.

With one out, Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick, and Albert Pujols all singled in a row, Schumaker scoring on the latter. The Mets would change pitchers, bringing in Pedro Feliciano.

Glaus then hit an infield single, third baseman David Wright unable to do anything with the ball, Ludwick scoring the go-ahead run. Yadier Molina then singled home Pujols, making it 7-5.

Aaron Miles drove home Glaus with a double, pushing the Cards up 8-5.

In a surprising move, Cards' manager Tony La Russa sent Isringhausen to the plate with runners on second and third with two outs. Considering the Cardinals have an extra arm on the roster, and that tacking on runs has been an issue, the move made little sense based on only that information. Izzy struck out as he didn't know what the bat was for.

To increase the wonderment over the Izzy plate appearance, La Russa then removed him, calling in Ron Villone.

Villone gave up a two-out walk to Wright, then a gofer ball to Carlos Delgado, bringing the Mets within one at 8-7. When Villone walked Carlos Beltran, La Russa brought in Russ Springer, who got a ground out to end the inning.

The Mets countered with reliever Joe Smith, who gave up a two-out walk to Ludwick, then got Pujols to fly out.

Springer held the Mets in the seventh.

When the Cards produced nothing in the eighth, La Russa called upon reliever Kyle McClellan.

Things got dicey then, Endy Chavez singling to lead off. When McClellan threw one in the dirt, Chavez scampered to second, Moline having no shot at him. Chavez, now in scoring position, represented the tying run.

McClellan then struck out David Wright swinging for the first out.

Making things more nerve-racking, Delgado came to the plate, having hit two home runs in the game so far. McClellan struck him out too, on a nasty curve ball.

In a huge match-up, McClellan then struck out Carlos Beltran, retiring the side on strikeouts of the most dangerous Mets' hitters in the lineup.

After Cesar Izturis singled to lead off the ninth, the Cards went to small ball, Schumaker sacrificing him over to second with a bunt. Ludwick walked, putting runners on first and second for Pujols with out. Pujols, however, tried to pull too much, and ended up reaching a low and outside ball, slow-batting a tailor-made double play ball to end the inning.

La Russa went with closer Ryan Franklin, hoping for a one-two-three inning. Franklin worked a 2-2 count to Fernando Tatis, who drove a ball over the center field wall, Rick Ankiel just missing the catch, the game tied at 8-8. Franklin got the next three in order, the game heading into extra innings.

After the Cards went down in order in the tenth, Jose Reyes led off with a single. When Endy Chavez sac-bunted, however, Franklin pounced, throwing out Reyes at second. Wright then singled to left, just out of reach of a diving Izturis at short, the Mets now with runners at first and second with Carlos Delgado coming up.

Franklin then helped himself with an alert snag on a comebacker, wheeling and firing to Izturis at second base, his throw to Pujols at first base in plenty of time to complete an inning-ending double play.

The Cards went one-two-three in the eleventh, Brendan Ryan pinch-hitting in the pitcher's spot for Franklin.

Kelvin Jimenez would come on in relief next. After one out, Jimenez gave up two walks in a row, putting Tatis in scoring position, representing the potential game-winner. Argenis Reyes hit a grounder that Pujols had to range far to his right to field, throwing to Jimenez covering first for two outs. Jimenez than handled a comebacker off the bat of pinch-hitter Ramon Castro, racing toward first base to cut the distance and making a careful toss to Pujols, ensuring the third out.

The twelfth found Schumaker leading off with a single to left. Ludwick struck out swinging. Pujols singled to left-center on a much better looking swing then recent at bats, advancing Schumaker to second. Ankiel hit a slow-roller to second baseman Reyes, who had no other play than a shovel to first, Schumaker advancing to third, Pujols to second. With two outs, Glaus hit a pop fly out to center, the Cards leaving two men on.

La Russa stuck with Jimenez to start the bottom of the twelfth. Jose Reyes hit a sinking liner to left field, Schumaker sprinting in, risking a dive, but making the catch. Chavez then hit a slow hopper that Izturis hurried over to first, Chavez beating the throw but getting called out. Mets' manager Jerry Manuel argued to no avail. With two outs, Jimenez walked Wright, asking for big trouble in the next hitter, Delgado, who could end the game with one swing.

Delgado fought off several two-strike pitches, eventually drawing a walk, Wright advancing to second base. Beltran also fought off several two-strike pitches, taking a 2-2 pitch that looked to be a strike. A ball was called, however, and he walked on the next pitch, loading the bases for Tatis.

Jimenez had to field a comebacker off a broken bat, the barrel twirling dangerously near him as he maintained his composure and fielding the ball, throwing out Tatis to get out of the jam, forcing another inning.

Molina led off the thirteenth, striking out on a check swing that went too far. Miles then grounded out. Braden Looper pinch hit for Jimenez, La Russa down to only Jason LaRue, the backup catcher, on the bench. Looper struck out swinging.

La Russa brought in Brad Thompson, only Randy Flores remaining in the bullpen. (The Mets' last reliever, Aaron Heilman, who had just finished off Looper, had pitched two innings.)

Thompson threw a couple ground balls and a fly ball to cruise through the bottom half of the thirteenth.

In the fourteenth, Schumaker got a one-out single, his sixth hit on the night. Ludwick struck out looking, frozen on a curve ball. Pujols then came through, launching one into the seats in left-center, the two run shot putting the Cards up 10-8. The home run was Pujols' first home run since he'd hit his milestone 300th back on July 4. As long as it took, three-oh-one was right on time. Ankiel kept things going with a single. Glaus then drove a single into center field, the Cards taking advantage of someone else's tired bullpen for a change.

Thompson would face the top of the Mets lineup, Jose Reyes leading off with a pop fly into shallow left field, Izturis dashing back and toward the foul line to make the catch. Chavez popped out in foul territory behind home plate, Moline hustling to make the catch. Wright then grounded out to Glaus to end the game.

Brad Thompson secured the win, now 3-2.
Pujols photo by Barbara Moore