September 9, 2008

Pujols homers, Izturis checks, Ryan slides, Cards nip Cubs

Albert Pujols clobbered his third home run in as many days to get his team back in a game that seemed hopeless against one of the toughest pitchers in the National League, the Chicago Cubs' Ryan Dempster.

The three-run blast to right-center field knotted the game at three-each in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Until that point, the Cardinals had played every inning down, the Cubs jumping all over starter Kyle Lohse in the first inning for two of the three runs they would score for the night. The first inning rally was the product of a Ryan Theriot single, then back to back doubles by Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, respectively. Theriot scored on the Lee two-bagger. Lee scored when Ramirez's shot into the left field corner somehow bounced up and rolled along the top of the wall, warranting a ground rule double that scored Lee.

In the third inning, Theriot reached again, and this time, Ramirez singled him home to put the Cubs up 3-0.
And that's how the game went, Dempster rolling and Lohse struggling.

Cards' skipper Tony La Russa didn't feel Lohse was anywhere near his usual excellent performance standards and pulled him with one out in sixth inning, calling upon rookie Jason Motte, who shut down Dempster and Soriano with the bases loaded to get the Cards out of a huge dilemma.

La Russa would go on to use Ron Villone, Ryan Franklin, and Chris Perez.

The Cubs missed one golden opportunity to score in the fourth when Geovany failed to score on single with two outs, instead holding up at third base.

Instead of blowing a game in the ninth, as has happened many times this season, the Cardinals had a chance to reverse that trend.

Yadier Molina led off the final frame with a single to right field. La Russa promptly pinch-ran Brendan Ryan for Molina, who earlier in the game, failed to score from first base when Felipe Lopez drove a ball off the right field wall.

Cubs' manager Lou Piniella had brought in Carlos Marmol in relief for the ninth, who had difficulty attempting to hold Ryan close at first base, balking him into scoring position with no outs. Lopez then drew a walk, putting Cardinals on first and second. La Russa then pinch-hit call-up Brian Barden, who sac-bunted both runners up a base, now to second and third base.

The next decision for La Russa was whether to pinch hit for Izturis, but this time, TLR made no decision at all, actually, leaving Izturis in to bat with no outs and a pulled-in Cubs' defense. Izturis made contact on a check-swing, Ryan getting a great jump from third base as the ball made it past Marmol on the mound and forced second baseman Mike Fontenot to spend an extra second to field and fire home. Ryan found his way around the blocking left foot of Geovany Soto and slid sideways, slapping his left hand on the dish as he slid past.

The play would be scored a fielder's choice, but it was a big walk-off win for the Cardinals, who refuse to throw in the towel on this season, even when most of the media have already started talking about next season in earnest.

The Cardinals were very much in the NL Wild Card race when they were down by six games to the WC-leading Milwaukee Brewers, and now they are even closer.

The Houston Astros won their game tonight, keeping them within a half-game of the Cards. The Philadelphia Phillies started tonight a couple games ahead of the Redbirds in the WC, but lost 10-8 to the Florida Marlins.

And finally, the Milwaukee Brewers fell to the Cincinatti Reds, 5-4, in eleven innings, making the WC even tighter.

The Cardinals play the second game of the Cubs' series tonight at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Game time is 7:15 p.m.
photos by Barbara Moore