By Derrick Goold
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
WALKER IN A PINCH
DENVER • For the first time since Colorado won its first pennant, one of the best players in franchise history returned to see what’s become of his old stomping grounds — all while sporting a Cardinals jersey.
"Shocked they let me in the building," Larry Walker said. "I’m not a player. Heck, I’m not even a coach. … I’m a guest."
Walker, who retired after the 2005 season with the Cardinals, joined the Cardinals in Denver and will stay with them on their eight-day, two-city trip. He’ll work with hitters and outfielders — "if they ask," he said — and he’ll throw batting practice. His arrival coincides with first-base coach Dave McKay taking the week off from throwing BP because of a sharp pain in right shoulder.
A three-time batting champ and MVP for the Rockies, Walker has made irregular cameos with the Cardinals as a coach. Monday was his first visit to Coors Field since the Rockies went to the World Series. Though he flirts with pursuing a full-time position, he doesn’t want to miss time with his young children.
"Larry has got a standing invite," manager Tony La Russa said. "All he has to do is be himself. Make a comment when he wants and be available."
TEXTING BIG MAC
La Russa said he remains in regular contact with former Cardinal Mark McGwire, even exchanging text messages with the reclusive slugger. La Russa said he has recently extended an offer to join the team in June — and play in a golf tournament June 16 at Glen Echo to benefit La Russa’s pet charity, ARF.
Several Cardinals hitters, including Skip Schumaker, have worked privately with McGwire in the offseason and laud his hitting instruction. "He’s got a lot to offer," La Russa said. "He’s very consistent with what (hitting coach) Hal McRae and (assistant) Mike Aldrete teach. No problem with different voices. They are really on the same page."
MILES AT SHORT
Aaron Miles started at shortstop Monday to get Cesar Izturis a breather, and play to the matchups the Cardinals will be facing in the final three games of the series. Miles, a switch-hitter, is batting .351 against righthanded pitchers this season; Izturis, also a switch-hitter, is batting .286 vs. lefties (contrasted with .200 against righthanders). The Rockies have lefties scheduled to start the next three games.
As he prepared for a Colorado team that had seven steals in the previous four games, La Russa still marveled at catcher Yadier Molina’s throw to nab Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot on Sunday. In the fifth inning, Molina backhanded an inside pitch and in one fluid motion removed the ball and fired, lunging forward on his knees as if diving.
"(Molina’s) got to catch the pitch, release, and he’s hurrying as much as he can. Real hellacious play," La Russa said. "I don’t think you can make that play any better. No disrespect to Tony Pena, but how you make it better?"
The Cardinals’ 20th victory of the season, on Sunday, was the earliest ever for the franchise. The previous earliest date for a 20th victory was May 9. At 20-12, this year’s Cardinals are off to the best start since that 2005 club’s 20-11. … Walker was famously superstitions during his career, especially when it came to the No. 3. He wore No. 33. So, fittingly, he joins the team on Game 33.
SURGERY FOR WELLS
Colorado pitcher Kip Wells, a Cardinal last season, will be in St. Louis today to have surgery for a blood clot in his right hand, the Rockies announced Monday. The procedure will be performed by Dr. Rob Thompson at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. It is the second surgery for Wells to address circulation troubles. In March 2006, Wells had surgery in St. Louis to fix a blocked artery in his right arm. He had experienced numbness in his fingers this season, and a week ago the team sent him to see a specialist. Wells had a 2.29 ERA in 10 appearances for the Rockies, including one start — opening day against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Opposing the team he went 7-17 with in 2007, Wells allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings.