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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Izzy can't hold on in loss to Astros

Veteran closer tagged for three runs in the ninth inning
ST. LOUIS -- For six-plus seasons in a Cardinals uniform, Jason Isringhausen has either been effective or injured. Sometimes both. Perplexingly, it appears that right now he is neither.

Isringhausen sank deeper into a slump on Friday night, allowing three ninth-inning runs, as the Cardinals lost to the Astros, 3-2, at Busch Stadium. Isringhausen has been scored upon in four of his past six outings, allowing eight earned runs in five innings in that span. He did not allow a run in any of his first six appearances.

"You figure it out," Isringhausen said. "Tell me. I don't know what I'm doing different. No idea. So I'll just have to go back to the drawing board, start from scratch and claw my way back."

After Isringhausen struck out leadoff man Kaz Matsui, he permitted a single to Darin Erstad. Miguel Tejada, who has repeatedly tormented the Cardinals already this season, tripled into the gap in right-center to get Houston on the board. Lance Berkman's sacrifice fly tied the game, and Carlos Lee hit a two-out solo homer for the game-winner for the visitors.

The collapse ruined a brilliant outing from Braden Looper, who pitched seven exceptional innings. Looper allowed two hits and one walk, handing a 2-0 lead to the St. Louis bullpen. Ryan Franklin pitched an uneventful eighth before Isringhausen ran into trouble in the ninth.

The rally began innocently when Isringhausen threw a backdoor cut fastball to Erstad, and the outfielder poked a single under third baseman Aaron Miles' glove. Isringhausen fell behind Tejada, 3-0, before working the count full. He left the 3-2 pitch right in Tejada's preferred hitting zone, on the outside part of the plate and thigh-high. Tejada drove it deep into the outfield, scoring Erstad.

"I made a couple good pitches, made a couple bad pitches," Isringhausen said. "I made a good pitch, I thought, to Erstad, and he got it through the infield. And then Tejada battled me well. I threw a pitch away and he was able to go with it, hit it in the gap."

With the lead cut to 2-1, Isringhausen tried to stay out of any reasonable hitting zone for Berkman. But on a 2-2 pitch, he left a fastball up and over the plate, and Berkman was able to connect for a sacrifice fly that tied the game.

The next pitch was the worst one Isringhausen threw. He left a cut fastball over the plate and up to the dangerous Lee, and Lee drilled it to left field for the game-winner.

"It's just tough," Isringhausen said. "I feel bad for Looper. He pitched such a great game. It's my job to preserve a win, and I just didn't do it. When you let down 25 guys, it's not a fun job."

What's puzzling is that nothing seems to be particularly amiss with Isringhausen. His velocity was good, as was his movement, for the most part. He was simply missing with location, a deadly sin against a dangerous offense like the Astros'.

"For me, he's probably as tough as any pitcher in the league on me, so I have a tremendous respect for him," Berkman said. "Anybody's hittable. Very rarely are you going to catch a guy that's just unhittable. That doesn't happen very often. Let me say he doesn't blow very many saves. He's very capable."

Only a small fraction of the announced crowd of 41,193 was still around for Isringhausen's struggles, or for the Cardinals' attempt to come back in the bottom of the ninth. Heavy rain delayed the start for two hours, so the game didn't end until 12:02 a.m. CT.

The Cards did get a chance to bail Isringhausen out, though. Brendan Ryan managed an infield single to open the ninth, then stole a base and took third on Skip Schumaker's groundout. But Rick Ankiel struck out, Albert Pujols was walked intentionally, and Chris Duncan popped up to end the game. The Cardinals stranded 11 baserunners and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

"You get the feeling if you add a little something here or there, it makes it a heck of a lot tougher for them to come back," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "So you're vulnerable to what happens in the ninth. But we also hit quite a few balls hard that were right at outfielders. So it wasn't like we didn't keep taking our at-bats."

It would have been nice to let Isringhausen off the hook, but they were unable to do so. His strikeout of Matsui was his first in five appearances. Isringhausen has only walked one batter during his recent slump, and Lee's homer was the first he's allowed all year. But he's having a hard time just the same.

"Izzy's saved a lot of games for me, and I've been over there in that chair a lot myself," Looper said. "I've blown a lot of games in my day as a closer. He's going out there and giving 100 percent. He's our guy. We're going to win with Izzy, that's for sure."

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