April 24, 2009

Pujols plates himself twice in sweep of Mets

Albert Pujols brightened an already sunny afternoon for Kyle Lohse and Cardinal Nation Thurdsay with a couple home runs during the St. Louis Cardinals sweep of the New York Mets at Busch Stadium.

Pujols went 3-for-4 with a single and two home runs, tallying three RBIs and scoring four times. But he wasn't the only Card with a big offensive day, he just had the biggest.

Rick Ankiel came out of his early season funk with a 3-for-4 day of his own, including a solo home run and two doubles, grabbing up a couple RBIs while forwarding the Cards' cause.

The bigtime run production, as it turned out, would be necessary, the Mets' offensive machine able to strike at any time. And they did, several times.

Starter Lohse actually gave the Mets a hand in the first inning, balking in a run on a call somehow only seen by the home plate umpire, who seemed to claim Lohse's kick was illegal and so obvious that he made the rest of the blue-crew look bad. Loshe supposedly made his leg kick toward home and not toward third base, where he was trying to hold a base runner close. The balk was called, however, and the Mets took an early 1-0 lead.

Pujols quickly neutralized the run-producing balk, though, with a two-out, solo shot into the right field seats in the bottom of the frame.

Mets' starter Livon Hernandez would settle in along with Lohse for several innings on non-scoring, until the Cards touched him up for three runs in the fourth inning. Ankiel would double in Pujols for one run, Brenday Ryan singled Ankiel home, and Lohse would help make up with a single to right field that scored Ryan, putting the Cards up 4-1.

In the top of the fifth, Lohse suffered what appeared to be some type of ankle injury when Pujols erred on a ground ball; Lohse was covering first base, then slowed to adjust for Pujols' miscue, then had to fall to his knees to slip between the closing Pujols and Jose Reyes hauling down the line. (Reyes would be safe.) Somewhere during the bail, Lohse tweaked or injured something it appeared, but slight enough so that he would continue on the hill.

Immediately following the incident covering first base, Lohse seemed to be less effective on the mound, eventually giving up a run when David Wright hit a bases-loaded single to right, the aforementioned Reyes scoring from third base, bringing the Mets within a couple runs at 4-2.

Cards' skipper Tony La Russa may have been permitting Lohse to try to complete the inning in order to qualify as the pitcher of record. Lohse wasn't showing any signs of significant injury; he simply didn't pitch as well as he had been earlier. Lohse did complete the fifth.

Pujols would help make up once more in the bottom of the inning, driving a two-run homer to center field after Rasmus had gotten aboard with a single. Ankiel followed with a solo home run into the Cards' bullpen in right field, and the Cards had bolstered their lead to 7-2.

Hernandez was lifted for Stokes, who completed the inning.

La Russa pulled Lohse, then, bringing on P.J. Walters to hurl at the top of the sixth inning. Walters had recently been called up to shore up the pitching staff, especially where long relief was concerned. Walters gave up one run when Reyes singled home Ryan Church, making it 7-3 in favor of the Cardinals.

The bottom of the sixth found the Cardinals beating up on the Mets bullpen, in particular, Sean Green. Skip Schumaker doubled home Jason LaRue, followed by Rasmus trading spots with Schumaker by hitting a double as well.

But the additional two runs wasn't all. Pujols was intentionally walked. Rasmus and Pujols moved up to third and second, respectively, on a wild pitch by Green. Ryan Ludwick then made the Mets pay for that intentional walk to Pujols by stroking a single to right center field, scoring both Rasmus and Pujols, the Cards increasing their lead to 11-3.

The Mets chipped a bit off the Cardinals' lead in the seventh when Church cracked a two-run homer, closing to 11-5.

Schumaker would help give Walters a bit more breathing room in the bottom of seventh, when, after a LaRue single, Schumaker drove him home with a double, now 12-5.

No lead safe when facing the Mets, however. Carlos Beltran took advantage of Walters in the top of the eighth with a three-run homer, bring the Mets within a grand slam at 12-8.

La Russa had seen enough, bringing in left-handed specialist Trever Miller, who recorded one out against Delgado, who lined a shot right back at Miller, who made the play by half trying to glove the drive and half trying to get out of harm's way.

La Russa immediately took the ball from Miller and handed it over to reliever Chris Perez, who finished off Wright by striking him out swing at a slider.

Bobby Parnell came on for the Mets, shutting down the Cards in their half of the eighth.

Perez continued into the ninth, striking out Gary Sheffield, but then walking Church. La Russa wasted no time going to the next bullpenner, Dennys Reyes, who promptly balked Church over to second base. Reyes then got Daniel Murphy to ground out, Church going to third.

La Russa called upon Jason Motte to go against Fernando Tatis. (This day was the ten-year anniversary of Tatis hitting two grand slams in one inning.)

Motte struck out Tatis swinging, on a slider, ending the Mets chances for a last-minute comeback, something Cardinals' relief pitching had given up far too many times last season.
The 12-8 final gave the Cardinals a clean sweep of the Mets.

The second half of the current Cardinals' home stand finds the Chicago Cubs coming into St. Louis for a three-game set over the weekend.

Friday night's game pits the Cubs' Ryan Dempster (1-0, 5.00) against Adam Wainwright (2-0, 3.31).

Wainwright will be attempting to the be the third Cards' pitcher to muster a 3-0 record. Pineiro was the first; Loshe was the second.

photos by Barbara Moore