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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Wellemeyer cruises in win vs. Pirates

Bullpen holds on after allowing three runs in the ninth
ST. LOUIS -- Joe Mather provided the pregame excitement for the Cardinals, but it was Todd Wellemeyer who struck the Pirates like a bolt of lightning Friday in a 5-4 win at Busch Stadium.

Not that the recently recalled rookie failed to impress, but Wellemeyer turned in the second gem of the week for the Cardinals. Following in Adam Wainwright's footsteps, Wellemeyer threw seven strong innings to lead the Cardinals to their third straight win.

Throughout the year, Wellemeyer (6-1) has been a pleasant surprise for the Cardinals, going six or more innings in 10 of 12 starts. Wellemeyer struck out four hitters, lowered his ERA to 3.16, and the Cardinals continued to roll.

"He just got better and better," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

Since becoming a starter, Wellemeyer said he is using a little less of his repertoire due to the effectiveness of his two main pitches -- his fastball and slider. Because he is deceptive with his slider, he only goes to his changeup and cutter when he has to.

"Just simplifying it, you know," Wellemeyer said. "I'm not trying to think too much or do too much out there. I'm just pitching."

As simple as it sounds, "just pitching" is what Wellemeyer and Co. have done on the mound for the Cardinals.

Two months into the season, the Cardinals' starting pitching has dominated the Majors. The starting staff is the only National League group to average more than six innings per start (6.05), and it has the second-best ERA in the league (3.77) and the second-most wins in the NL (25).

"They've consistently given us a chance to win as a group," La Russa said.

"They're doing all the things to get themselves ready, and when they go out there, they compete. High class."

While Wellemeyer dominated on the mound, Mather, making his Major League debut, aided him on a fabulous dive in right field in the second inning.

With Xavier Nady on first, Adam LaRoche ripped a line drive towards the right-field corner. Leaping in full extension, Mather robbed LaRoche of an extra-base hit and likely saved a run. Once he stood up, Mather could hardly hold back his Cheshire grin.

"I couldn't help it," Mather said. "It was one of those things where, that's what you dream of. ... That doesn't happen often."

Wellemeyer said he thought Mather had no chance at making the grab, and he was on his way to back up catcher Yadier Molina for a throw to the infield. Instead, Mather came up with what he said will go down as one of the best catches he's ever made.

The rookie looked slightly nervous in the batter's box early, but with Cesar Izturis on third in the seventh, Mather gave the 42,791 fans at Busch Stadium a glimpse of why he tore up the Minors.

On a 1-1 count, Mather's swing connected with a fastball that turned into a single, his first big league hit. The RBI turned out to be the difference after the Cardinals nearly fell apart in the top of the ninth inning.

Entering with a 5-1 lead, Randy Flores retired two of the first three batters he faced, but left two on when he exited the game. Ryan Franklin came in, gave up a bloop single and a three-run double into the left-field corner that fell just short of a grand slam.

"It got very scary there at the end," La Russa said.

Nate McLouth had a chance to extend the game, but tapped out to Franklin to get the Cardinals to 10 games over .500 for the second time this year. At 33-23, the Cardinals are tied for the second-most wins in the Majors. La Russa's club has been a winner in nine of its last 12, and it allowed three runs or fewer in seven of those games.

In the first, Wellemeyer gave up a two-out home run to McLouth, but Albert Pujols answered with a two-run blast of his own -- his 14th long ball of the year. Wellemeyer added a sacrifice fly to help out his cause in the second, and Izturis singled home Rick Ankiel, who tripled to open the seventh.

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