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Monday, May 19, 2008

Schumaker's walk-off hit lifts Cards

Lohse solid, offense comes back late against Rays in finale
ST. LOUIS -- For the Cardinals' fans who packed Busch Stadium on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon, it was a day that started with a thrill and ended similarly.

From Stan Musial to Skip Schumaker, it was a good day to be a Cardinals fan.

A moving pregame tribute to the 87-year-old Musial set an inspiring tone for the day, and Schumaker brought down the curtain three hours later with a walk-off double in the ninth to give St. Louis a 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay heading into a week-long West Coast road trip.

tag Manager Tony La Russa didn't deliver a "win one for Stan" speech to his club, but he wanted to make sure the Cardinals played good fundamental baseball and competed in a manner that the St. Louis icon would enjoy.

The effort and overall execution were there, and the comeback victory made for a perfect ending to Stan Musial Day. Trailing, 4-2, going to the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals used a two-run single by Interleague Play stalwart Aaron Miles to tie the game. Rookie reliever Chris Perez came through with a clean ninth to set the stage for Schumaker to produce the game-winning hit.

After Jason LaRue led off the ninth by drawing the 10th St. Louis walk of the game, Cesar Izturis beat out an infield roller down the third-base line. Schumaker went the opposite way against Tampa Bay reliever Gary Glover with a drive to left that just cleared the glove of fleet-footed left fielder Carl Crawford.

It was the second walk-off hit and fifth game-winning RBI of the season for Schumaker.

"You get it up in the air against these guys, Crawford and [B.J.] Upton, and they are going to run it down," Schumaker said. "You can never underestimate their speed out there. I just put my head down and ran. I was trying to listen to the fans, hoping they were going to yell."

The noise indeed told Schumaker that the ball had eluded Crawford and given St. Louis a walk-off win for the second consecutive game.

The wins aren't coming easily, but the Cardinals are now 26-20 after shaking off a 2-8 stretch through Friday's loss to the Rays.

"I think we're all grinders," Schumaker said.

Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse got through six innings on just 78 pitches, but the Cardinals trailed, 3-0, early and Lohse was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth as St. Louis scrambled for offense.

"I think he handled himself really well," La Russa said. "There were a couple of first-pitch hits, and that was their [offense]. He was ready to keep going, but at that point, we were running out of outs."

There had been some questions raised about Lohse's throwing shoulder early in the week, but Lohse allowed just two earned runs on eight hits, while fanning a season-high five.

"I felt strong out there," Lohse said. "Those guys are swinging it. They are putting the ball in play and finding holes. You tip your hat to them, but we did a good job of battling and coming out on top."

The biggest difference between the two teams was control. While Tampa Bay pitchers were nibbling, walking 10 on the day, St. Louis' pitchers didn't allow a single walk. The Cardinals did suffer one glitch, when LaRue's throwing error allowed the Rays' third run to score, but they had to earn just about everything else they got.

St. Louis finally picked it up on offense in the seventh, when Ryan Ludwick homered off Rays reliever Dan Wheeler. Ludwick has hit three homers in his past two games, and a club-high 11 on the season. Albert Pujols went 3-for-5, and picked up his 1,400th career hit in the fifth inning.

"It's a good sign of our toughness," La Russa said of the consecutive walk-off wins to end a 3-3 homestand.

The clutch hit by Schumaker enabled to Perez to notch his first Major League victory, capping a memorable day for Perez in which he earlier had a chance to meet Musial coming off the field.

"I think we had Stan on our minds the whole game," La Russa said.

In the end, Musial had something big to cheer about, just like all the other Cardinal fans.

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