Closer Jason Isringhausen arrived at Busch Stadium Saturday with a fresh haircut and an upbeat attitude.
Isringhausen sought a buzz cut after fumbling a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning of Friday’s 11-inning 5-3 win over the Chicago Cubs, which raised fresh questions about his physical fitness.
"I’ve never worn my hair longer until this year," Isringhausen said. "No more — a clean start."
Manager Tony La Russa and Isringhausen took turns insisting the righthander was available to close Saturday after being lifted following his 26th pitch the night before.
"It’s not a physical thing," insisted Isringhausen, less than two years removed from surgery on his arthritic left hip. "I just need to get out of this funk I get in and go out there and pitch the way I know how. I need to start pitching to halves of the plate instead of picking at corners. That’s what got me in trouble against Soriano (Friday) night."
Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano’s two-run crank left Isringhausen his third blown save in 12 opportunities. Isringhausen dropped only two of 34 chances in 2007 but has faltered after appearing 12 times in the Cardinals’ first 24 games this season. After publicly contemplating trashing his signature cut fastball against righthanded hitters Friday night, Isringhausen said Saturday he would instead concentrate on sharpening it between appearances.
"He’s like a hitter in slump," La Russa said. "It happens over a few days. You go back to basics. It happens to hitters; it happens to pitchers. Physically he’s fine."
THE STREAK LIVES
First baseman Albert Pujols extended his seasonlong streak of reaching base to 31 games Saturday when he hit his sixth home run off Cubs starter Ted Lilly in the sixth inning. Pujols reached base in the first 33 games of the 2005 season. That was the Cardinals’ best season-opening streak, dating to 1956. Pujols failed to walk Saturday for the first time in nine games. He accepted 12 walks without a strikeout during the span. Pujols coincidentally struck out Saturday for the first time in 10 games since April 22. Pujols leads both leagues in walks with 32 and has struck out eight times in 103 at-bats.
Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez had a considerable bruise on his left forearm, right above his wrist, from the fastball that hit him Friday night. Ramirez was not available for Saturday’s game, though the Cubs hope the third baseman can return Sunday night. General manager Jim Hendry said X-rays showed no fracture, though Ramirez had difficulty gripping a bat.
To cover Ramirez’s position, the Cubs shifted utility man Mark DeRosa to third and started Mike Fontenot at second.
Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol continued his late-inning dominance with two hitless innings of relief. Marmol struck out Albert Pujols in the eighth, the righthander’s 28th strikeout this season in 21 innings. "He was throwing in the shadows (around home plate Saturday) at 95 mph," outfielder Ryan Ludwick said. "Looks like 98 mph." The 25-year-old has a 1.29 ERA and is among the league leaders in holds. The Cubs are content to keep him at setup and stick with Kerry Wood as a closer.
Wood has four saves but also recently had his third blown save of the season, prompting Cubs manager Lou Piniella to assert: "I have confidence in Kerry. Look, Kerry’s our closer. That’s the end of the story."
FUKUDOME CLEANS UP
Batting for the first time at cleanup for the Cubs, Kosuke Fukudome doubled twice and went three for five with a couple of RBIs. Fukudome came into Saturday’s game with a .204 average on the road after an 0 for five Friday. But now he’s six for his last 22 on the road.