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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Others get pub; why Flores gets win

By: Derrick Goold

DENVER — With all of the hairpin turns and high jinks that the Cardinals and Colorado crammed into tonight’s riveting game at Coors Field, there was one pivotal player whose role was obscured.

Good thing he got the win.

It was hardly the prettiest inning of the game for a Cardinals’ pitcher, but Randy Flores’ eighth inning took on added importance, especially after Albert Pujols’ 180-foot sprint on Rick Ankiel’s game-winning groundout. Flores faced six batters, allowed one run, three stolen bases and three hits, got tagged for a blow save, and yet what he did merited a key mention when manager Tony La Russa rattled off the litany of stars from the 6-5 victory.

“So many heroes. So many heroes,” he said. “This was really the old cliche — a team effort.”

Flores came in at the start of the eighth inning, to face Brad Hawpe. That made sense. Lefty, lefty, dontcha know. Hawpe, a lefthanded hitter, had driven in two of the Rockies’ first three runs, including a solo home run off starter Joel Pineiro. But then Flores stayed in to face Chris Ianetta. And Jonathan Herrera. And he faced four consecutive righthanded hitters, including consecutive pinch hitters.

And, no sign of Russ Springer. Huh?

Springer has pitched one inning in the past week, and he has been used sparingly since his return from the disabled list with a nerve irritation. This game seemed to be begging for Springer, the Cardinals’ true righthanded specialist. The Cardinals were ahead by a run about the time the run of righties started against Flores. Yet, Springer wasn’t coming in. Not even close. La Russa had a reason.

Check the shape of the bullpen:

* RHP Jason Isringhausen … going to close any potential win.
* RHP Ryan Franklin … untouchable after pitching Sunday.
* RHP Kyle McClellan … would prefer to avoid using after throwing Sunday.
* LHP Ron Villone … Had already pitched.
* RHP Mike Parisi … Had already pitched.
* RHP Russ Springer … Ready for ninth and extra innings.

That left Flores. See, without a true long man after Parisi left the game, La Russa decided to hedge his bullpen. He’d go with Flores in the eighth inning, and if the score remained tied then Springer would come in. If the score continued to be tied … well, La Russa would have to make the call if Springer could go two innings, three innings or not.

Flores had to get through the eighth.

He did to deserve the win.

Flores got a groundout from Hawpe to start then inning and then allowed three consecutive singles. The third of which was hardly a singly at all. Roped base hits to right-center field put runners on first and second. A double steal — the Rockies’ fifth game in their past six with at last a couple steals — put pinch-runner Willy Taveras on third base. Pinch hitter Ryan Spilborghs chopped a “squibber” — the very definition of dribbler — barely into the infield grass. Flores lunged for it, attempting to dive and field and flip the ball all in one motion. Didn’t work. Taveras scored to tie the score.

It’s the first earned run Flores has allowed this season.

Flores then promptly struck out the final two batters of the inning.

La Russa shrugged off the question about keeping Flores in against the run of righthanders. He pointed to the numbers:

Flores vs. Lefthanded hitters … 13 AB … .308 BA/.313 OBP/.528 SLG

Flores vs. Righthanded hitters … 18 AB … .222 BA/.391 OBP/.222 SLG

“He was pitching into a strength,” La Russa said. “And we were going for the win. If it got past that we were going to be in a tough situation.”

They weren’t. And Flores got the win for his work.

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