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Monday, May 5, 2008

Cubs can't solve Kennedy

Tony La Russa has stumbled upon a new definition for "damage" in the No. 2 spot in his batting order. Its name is Adam Kennedy.

The Cardinals second baseman, without a home run since last Aug. 7, became a painful pebble in the Chicago Cubs' cleats during Sunday night's come-from-behind 5-3 victory before 44,969 at Busch Stadium. The Cubs never found a way to retire Kennedy. As a result, the Cardinals secured the three-game series with the benefit of one extra-base hit, Todd Wellemeyer's five-inning start and a four-man bullpen tag team.

The staff Wallenda, closer Jason Isringhausen, atoned for Friday's blown save by seamlessly preserving a two-run lead for his 10th save this season and No. 291 of his career.

A 6-3 home stand lifted the Cardinals to 20-12 this season, leaving them with as many wins as in last season's first 49 games.
said a week ago: There are a lot of tough teams in this division. I just want us to be one of them," La Russa said. "We're playing tough."

Last year's team never benefited from the real Kennedy, a player who carried a career .279 average and a reputation as a solid defender to St. Louis before crumbling to a career-low .219 average. He exited Sunday hitting .329.

"It's a big difference being able to play with confidence," Kennedy said. "This game is tough enough. To go out there with confidence is more than half the battle."

"The way he is now, he's the player he's been his whole career," La Russa said, citing Kennedy's seven seasons with the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels. "He is now what he's been. He's a winning player."

First baseman Albert Pujols generated the game-winning RBI thanks to his two-run double against former Redbird Jason Marquis in the fourth inning. Kennedy, however, reached base in all four plate appearances, drove home the tying run, scored the game-winner and provided late insurance on a night his team bled Marquis for five runs in 5 1/3 innings.

With shortstop Cesar Izturis as Kennedy's co-conspirator, the Redbirds' middle infield reached base six times before the seventh inning.

Hitting .216 entering the game, Izturis scored twice after singling in the second and fourth innings.

Kennedy's surge may be enough for the manager to rethink his fixation with long-ball hitters manning the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Kennedy, the original No. 9 hitter when La Russa shuffled the pitcher into the No. 8 spot last August, embraces the higher standing.

Pujols struck out and bounced into a double play in his first two at-bats, then victimized Marquis with a two-run double to left field, scoring Izturis and Kennedy for a 4-2 lead.

The night's most difficult play belonged to catcher Yadier Molina, who threw out Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot at second base from his knees for the fifth inning's second out. Wellemeyer got one more out.

The play drew a standing ovation usually reserved for home runs.

"I wasn't thinking about it. I just reacted," Molina said.

"That's beyond beyond," La Russa said. "That's a keeper. That will go down in history of 100 years of Cardinals baseball. I don't think a catcher's made a better play than that."

Kennedy's breakout followed Thursday's day off and two missed starts against Cubs lefthanders Rich Hill and Ted Lilly. He also failed to start against Cincinnati Reds righthander Aaron Harang. Hitting .310 before Sunday, Kennedy completed a seven-for-19 home stand.

"You've got to give Adam credit because he hadn't started a game in several days," La Russa said. "There again, he didn't let his head get in the way of his playing. He just toughed it out."

"Personally, it's not fun," Kennedy said of his uneven playing time. "But as a teammate you've got to be there for the guys. You have both: It's killing you inside, but you've got to be a good teammate. You want them to do well. I guess you've got both feelings going on."

Kennedy had little to say about not seeing lefthanders. "We've got to work on starting against rights first," he half-joked.

With the Cardinals trailing 2-0 in the second inning because of two doubles and a sacrifice fly against Wellemeyer, right fielder Skip Schumaker singled home the pitcher for the first run. Kennedy then slapped another hit past second base for the second.

The Izturis-Kennedy pairing worked for a 5-2 lead in the sixth inning because of Izturis' leadoff single and Kennedy's one-out flare to left field against lefthanded reliever Sean Marshall. Kennedy represented a dead spot in the lineup last season, hitting a helpless .122 in 41 at-bats against lefthanded pitching.

Sunday's RBI single left Kennedy with a .500 average against lefthanders this season. His six hits are one more than he mustered all last season against lefties.

The Cardinals used three pitchers to get an out apiece in the seventh inning before Ryan Franklin handled the eighth inning and then Isringhausen entered to Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" to close the deal.


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