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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cardinals win a walkoff special

May 2, 2008 -- Cardinals' Skip Schumaker hits the game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the eleventh inning.With one ninth-inning pitch the Cardinals revisited an uncomfortable question.

With one 11th-inning swing they turned a potentially calamitous ending into something uplifting.

Left fielder Skip Schumaker ended the first of this weekend's three-act drama Friday when he turned a one-out, first-pitch fastball into a walk-off, two-run home run and a 5-3 revival over the Chicago Cubs in front of a sellout crowd of 45,077 at Busch Stadium.

Schumaker's blast followed Aaron Miles' pinch single to begin the inning, a wild pitch and second baseman Brendan Ryan's sacrifice that left Miles at third base with one out.

Schumaker left no doubt when he drove Chad Fox's first pitch over the right-field fence for his second home run.

"I always follow the flight because I don't ever know if I get enough to leave the ballpark," said Schumaker. "Miles did his job; Ryan did his job; and I had a runner at third with less than two outs.

"All I wanted to do was get the ball in the air."

The game reached Schumaker after closer Jason Isringhausen dropped a 3-1 lead by allowing Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano a two-run home run.

With his rescue, Schumaker left the Cardinals (19-11) with their sixth win in eight games and the Cubs (17-12) their sixth loss in the same span.

Schumaker, who replaced starter Brian Barton in the fourth inning, is hitting .346 with a .519 slugging percentage, including six doubles and two home runs, vs. righthanded pitching.

The win overshadowed but did not erase Isringhausen's ninth-inning fade that left him with his third blown save and quite possibly a crisis of confidence.

With the Cubs down to two outs, Isringhausen left a thigh-high cut fastball for Soriano to drive for a two-run homer and a 3-3 tie. Isringhausen, who left only one game in mid-inning last year, threw 26 pitches and allowed two more baserunners before manager Tony La Russa lifted him in favor of Ron Villone. The closer now finds himself questioning his signature pitch and wondering aloud about his standing.

"Nobody in here knows what this is like," he said. "When I screw up, I'm letting 25 guys down who've taken the game to the ninth inning. It's not a good feeling. It's not fun, believe me."

Isringhausen has taken damage in five of his last eight outings, suffering three blown saves and a loss in the span. The Cardinals continue to insist Isringhausen is not physically handicapped while opponents have reached him for 10 earned runs and 11 hits, including two home runs, in his last 6 2/3 innings.

Isringhausen's third blown save in his last eight outings leaves him with one more fumble than he suffered in 34 chances last season. He left with a 7.11 ERA and is now receiving questions similar to those he heard while pitching with a degenerating hip condition in 2006.

"I know if I'm not pitching well that's what it must be," Isringhausen said dryly. "But that's not it. I'm just not making pitches with (the cut fastball)."

Isringhausen has ridden the cutter for 10 years. The pitch has helped him to 290 career saves. Now he wonders if he needs to ditch a once-trusted friend.

La Russa let slip his concern during a postgame news conference, saying, "I asked if he was all right. He said 'OK.' I don't know.

"He had trouble getting the ball down. That's something he usually does pretty well."

Cubs manager Lou Piniella made the game's first move, removing his starting pitcher, Rich Hill, after the lefthander mixed only 10 strikes among 27 pitches while forcing home the game's first run with four walks.

Piniella had erupted Thursday during a postgame news conference and exhibited even less patience with Hill, guilty of walking Rick Ankiel, Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick before bouncing a 3-2 pitch to the sixth hitter he faced, catcher Yadier Molina, to force home the game's first run.

Ryan's second-inning single scored starting pitcher Adam Wainwright for a 2-0 lead after the pitcher's leadoff double.

The Cardinals left the bases loaded in the first inning and missed a first-and-third opportunity in the second when Pujols became involved in a rundown that led to Ryan being thrown out at the plate.

"We had our chances. We had a lot of chances early. But they had their opportunities, too," Schumaker said. "It was one of those games that would have been real difficult to lose. But we had a lot of guys make sure that didn't happen."

Wainwright followed his 126-pitch win against the Houston Astros last Saturday with an efficient outing. He allowed multiple baserunners in only one inning, struck out five and walked one.

"We were not going to push him at all," La Russa said. "We had the bullpen fresh and ready to go."

The Cardinals stranded 10 through seven innings but managed their final two-run lead after former Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee botched Ankiel's one-out grounder.

Pujols then lofted a towering pop fly to left field that Soriano overran for a scorer's single. With two out, Molina chased Soriano to the warning track, where the left fielder's reach failed to touch what was judged a ground-rule double.

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