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Monday, May 5, 2008

Izzy closes out Cubs in series finale

Kennedy and Pujols knock in two runs apieceST. LOUIS -- All eyes were focused on St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen on Sunday night.

The Cardinals had a sellout crowd of 44,969 at Busch Stadium, a national television audience on ESPN and a two-run lead to turn over to their veteran closer in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Two nights after giving up a game-tying home run in the ninth, Isringhausen retired the Chicago Cubs in order on 12 pitches to secure a 5-3 victory, the Cardinals' sixth win in its nine-game homestand. With it, the Cardinals retain their hold on the top spot in the National League Central standings and get to 20 wins earlier, by date, than any other team in franchise history.

"To come in there and get three outs, that tells you all you need to know about Jason Isringhausen," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "That's why he's our closer. He's a really, really tough guy."

After 48 hours of introspection, the 35-year-old right-hander took the ball in the ninth with a new trimmed haircut and a simple approach.

"What I tried to do tonight was let it all loose and pound the strike zone," Isringhausen said.

In earning his 10th save of the season, and 291st of his career, Isringhausen did just that. Of his 12 pitches -- which included four-seam fastballs, sinkers, cutters and curveballs -- nine were strikes.

"He was good," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said. "He was throwing the fastball a lot. That's his main pitch. If he keeps that fastball down, they're going to hit it on the ground and they're going to get a lot of outs."

The Cubs scored twice in the second inning off Cardinals starter Todd Wellemeyer. Catcher Geovany Soto doubled and scored on center fielder Reed Johnson's double to left. Second baseman Mike Fontenot, who had walked, scored on left fielder Alfonso Soriano's sacrifice fly.

The Cardinals answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning with four consecutive hits off Cubs right-hander Jason Marquis.

After Wellemeyer and shortstop Cesar Izturis had one-out singles, right fielder Skip Schumaker and second baseman Adam Kennedy followed with back-to-back RBI singles to tie the score.

The Cardinals took a 4-2 lead in the fourth when first baseman Albert Pujols smacked a two-run double down the left-field line to score Izturis and Kennedy.

Wellemeyer (3-1) tossed five innings. He allowed two runs on three hits, struck out four and walked four. He threw 95 pitches, with 57 for strikes.

"I felt decent all day," Wellemeyer said. "Mentally, I was in it the whole time. I kept the ball low and that was important."

The Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out in the seventh off rookie reliever Kyle McClellan, but they only scored one run on a sacrifice fly by right fielder Kosuke Fukudome to make it 5-3. Lefty specialist Randy Flores came in to retire Fukudome, and then right-hander Ryan Franklin got the final out of the inning.

"I had faith in the bullpen," Wellemeyer said.

Franklin pitched a scoreless eighth inning before giving way to Isringhausen in the ninth. McClellan, Flores, Franklin and Isringhausen combined to allow just one run on two hits over the final four innings.

All eyes were focused on Isringhausen, and he came through.

"Izzy's one of the best closers right now in the game," Pujols said. "You're gonna blow some games and you're going to save big games. To us, our job is to go out there and give him a chance every night hopefully so he can save the game. He's human. He's not a machine, so he's going to blow some games. If you look at the great closers of the past, they blow a lot of games and they save a lot of games. ... Nine out of 10 times when he goes out there he's going to save the game, so I take my chances any time with him."

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