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Friday, April 18, 2008

Cards rock Giants' world, 11-1

April 18, 2008 -- Cardinals' Albert Pujols (5) is congratulated by teammates as he returns to the dugout after hitting a three-run home run in the fourth inning.
There's more to the Todd Wellemeyer Experience than just impeccable timing, but it's hard to ignore how the Cardinals righthander has been the right pitcher at the right time with the right power to help him.

Punctuated by Albert Pujols' first home run at Busch Stadium this season and Skip Schumaker's three runs scored, the Cardinals unleashed a torrent of offense in an 11-1 drubbing of San Francisco on Friday night.

For the 12th time in Wellemeyer's 15 starts with the club, the Cardinals won.

As with other Wellemeyer starts, he got a bounty of offense.

Home runs by Chris Duncan and Pujols highlighted a nine-run tattooing of San Francisco starter Matt Cain, who only a week ago held the Cardinals hitless through six innings.

The Cardinals scored six runs in the fourth inning, a rally sparked by Jason LaRue's first hit of the season.

That's been almost standard in starts by Wellemeyer.

The righthander came to the Cardinals as a recently waived reliever. He presented teammates with cheesy, tie-dyed T-shirts this spring, outfitted the pitchers with hand-held game systems last year and literally is a card-carrying Kentucky Colonel.

As certain as his quirkiness — and the clear intrigue of his ability as a starter — is the run support his teammates often provide.

He has received six or more runs of support in nine of his 15 starts. The Cardinals had previously scored eight runs in two of his three starts this season.

Wellemeyer pitched seven innings Friday, scattered four hits and gave up a run that the Giants produced only after a four-man effort didn't put a hit out of the infield.

Helped by a double play, Wellemeyer retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced. Only one Giant in the final three innings that Wellemeyer pitched got into scoring position.

When Cain pitched against the Cardinals last week in San Francisco, the young righthander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

Friday he didn't survive the fourth.

By the time Erick Threets relieved him with five runs already scored in the fourth inning, Cain had allowed as many baserunners (11) as he had collected outs.

Threets got the final out of the fourth inning, tagging Cain with nine earned runs over 3 2/3 innings. It was the top of the order that inflicted the most harm on Cain's earned-run average, which came in at a superb 3.24 but ballooned to 6.64.

Before Friday's game, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said his hot-hitting handful of outfielders presented him with "a decision you want to have."

He did not start Ryan Ludwick, who had four hits Thursday, and went with an all lefty group. His reasoning: Ludwick's scorching, but no one is slumping.

Take Schumaker.

The leadoff hitter entered Friday's game with hits in four consecutive games, including two multi-hit games this week against Milwaukee. He raised his average from .167 to .306 in the span of seven games.

And it kept climbing Friday, as Schumaker reached base in each of his first three appearances and laced a two-run single off Cain in the fourth inning.

Take Duncan.

Invigorated in San Francisco last weekend, the Cardinals left fielder went five for 10 in the final two games of the Cardinals' four-game visit to AT&T Park.

Over the previous 10 games, he's hit .300, and with a couple of doubles and a home run against the Giants his power reappeared on the radar. Ditto Friday.

Combined, Schumaker and Duncan reached base in their first six plate appearances. They scored five of the Cardinals' first seven runs Friday.

Duncan doubled in the first to move Schumaker, who had walked, to third and set up the Cardinals' first run of the game. In the third inning, Schumaker led off with a single and Duncan followed with his second home run of the season — a shot to right field.

And in the decisive fourth inning, Schumaker drove in Jason LaRue and Cesar Izturis with a single to right field. Duncan walked. And both scored on Albert Pujols' mammoth blast to Big Mac Land.

That about cooked Cain.

Pujols' first home run at Busch Stadium this season was a doozy. The Cardinals first baseman, who left town after the team's first home stand without a homer, ripped Cain's 2-2 fastball eight rows deep into the second deck of stands in left field. The shot was estimated at 424 feet. It put the Cardinals ahead 8-1.

Cain would face one more hitter — Rick Ankiel doubled — and then be excused.

San Francisco had little chance to rally.

Wellemeyer (2-0) surpassed 100 pitches for the first time as a Cardinal and lowered his ERA to 3.51 in 15 starts for the team.

He walked the first batter he faced after being handed an eight-run lead, but otherwise he was meticulously effective. The righthander, who leads the team in strikeouts, fanned the first three batters he faced Friday.

The only run the Giants — who came into Friday's game with one of the weakest offenses in the majors — got against Wellemeyer came without a ball leaving the infield.

Jose Castillo walked, got to second on a sacrifice bunt and moved to third on Cain's groundout to the catcher. Castillo scored on a sharp hit back to the mound by Fred Lewis.

The Giants briefly threatened in the top of the fourth inning, getting runners to second and third with two outs.

But Wellemeyer worked Castillo for a popup that ended the threat.

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