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Monday, June 30, 2008

Lohse beats Mets, picks up 10th victory

Cards righty tosses seven stellar frames; Duncan goes deep
ST. LOUIS -- Behind a few gifts from the visiting Mets on Monday night, the Cardinals took advantage early to win their first game at home in two weeks, 7-1.

The Cardinals scored at least one run in each of the first five innings. Aided by three errors -- two led to runs -- St. Louis rattled John Maine early and never trailed.

Coming off a poor start in which he only lasted four innings, Kyle Lohse shined through seven innings to win his 10th game of the year. Lohse struck out four batters and walked two.

Albert Pujols, who went 2-for-4, singled in Skip Schumaker in the first and later scored on a double play. That was enough breathing room for the Cardinals the rest of the way. Chris Duncan, who had not homered since May 16, hit a two-run shot to right field in the fifth inning.

The Cardinals have now won at least 15 games in June for the past four years and five of the last six.

LaRue, Pujols power Redbirds to victory

Catcher, designated hitter team up for two homers, six RBIs
KANSAS CITY -- In the first inning on Sunday, Royals outfielder David DeJesus barrelled toward home plate, trying to score on Jose Guillen's single to left field. DeJesus lowered his right shoulder and plowed into Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue, who had caught Skip Schumaker's laser-beam throw.

The impact revealed plenty about LaRue, who relishes such confrontations. The aftermath, even more.

LaRue held on to the ball and tagged DeJesus out, helping Braden Looper escape from the inning without allowing a run. An inning later, LaRue hit a 399-foot home run to right field, sending the Cardinals on their way to a 9-6 win over the Royals in the final game of a grueling nine-game Interleague road trip. LaRue also added a two-run triple for his finest game as a Cardinal.

"My goodness," marveled manager Tony La Russa. "What more can you do? Big hits, big collision at the plate, and he got another couple balls that he hit well that were outs. He just had a terrific day."

La Russa speculated that the collision got LaRue going, and the catcher didn't deny it.

"It's part of the game," LaRue said. "It's my job to block the plate. In a situation like that, I'm going to take the plate away if I know I have a chance to get the guy out."

Looper struggled on a difficult day for pitchers, allowing six hits, four walks and three runs -- two earned -- in 3 1/3 innings. The manager had a quick hook with his starter, seeing that Looper simply wasn't sharp. The stiff wind out to right field didn't help any, but Looper had far from his best game.

"It was tough for a lot of different reasons," Looper said. "[The weather conditions] were part of it, but it's still not an excuse. When the team gives you a lead like that, you've got to be able to pitch six or seven innings. I didn't do that today, so I'm just glad the guys could pick me up."

Chris Perez relieved Looper and escaped from a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth, keeping a two-run Cardinals lead intact. Overall, St. Louis' bullpen bent but didn't break. Perez was credited with the win, though he ran into trouble in his second inning. Jason Isringhausen struck out four in 1 2/3 innings but also permitted a run. The story for the club's relievers was consistent, with impressive escapes followed by difficult second innings.

LaRue got the Cardinals on the board in the second, launching his wind-aided, opposite-field home run into the Royals' bullpen. It was his third homer of the year, all of them coming in the past 19 days.

After Kansas City cut a five-run lead down to two, LaRue lashed a line drive into center field with two on in the fifth. The ball hooked hard to center fielder Joey Gathright's right and rolled all the way to the wall for a two-run triple.

The two extra-base hits just continued a hot streak for LaRue, who has been raking for more than a month and a half. On the morning of May 11, he was batting .067 with no extra-base hits. Since then, he's batting .333 and slugging .579.

"I haven't changed anything from Day 1," he said. "Going into it, when, obviously, I didn't have much of an average, it never bothered me. I never did anything different, never changed anything. My goal is to go up and have a good at-bat."

Albert Pujols added a double and a two-run homer for the Cardinals. Pujols came about a foot from a second home run as he kept up a career-long trend of hitting well in Kansas City.

The Cardinals went 5-4 on a trip to three American League cities, winning two of their three series. They've now enjoyed three consecutive winning trips, and have endured just one losing trip all season.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Boggs, Cards down Royals

Right-hander superb in start, picks up third win of season
KANSAS CITY -- All consolation prizes should shine so brightly.

Mitchell Boggs, the Cardinals' second choice to start on Saturday, pitched the finest game of his young career en route to a 5-1 St. Louis win over Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium. Boggs struck out a career-high six over six-plus innings, allowing a single run on four hits.

As recently as Wednesday, the Cardinals held out hope that Mark Mulder might be their starting pitcher on Saturday. On Thursday, Boggs was listed as an available reliever for an afternoon game in Detroit. Had he been needed in that game, Boggs might even have been sent to the Minor Leagues the next day -- never mind actually starting in Kansas City on Saturday.

But Mulder was not sharp enough in a Thursday bullpen session to convince the club he was ready to start. And Boggs didn't have to pitch in relief later that afternoon. In his fourth career big league start, the University of Georgia product showed that he was a superb choice. He pushed aside the uncertainty, and turned in the kind of start that likely will earn him more chances.

"It's not hard," Boggs said of the unusual week. "I'm in the big leagues right now, and they've showed a lot of confidence in me to keep sending me out there. I'll show up every day and do whatever they ask me to do. It doesn't matter."

Odds are, the next thing they'll ask is for him to start again in five days.

Boggs got off to a bit of a rocky start, walking three of the first eight batters he faced. A double play got him out of a two-on, one-out situation in the first. Around two walks in the second, he picked up a strikeout and two ground balls, surviving if not exactly thriving.

In the third inning, though, he began to pick up steam. Boggs allowed a single, but struck out the side in the third, and he got two Ks and a grounder in the fourth.

"I was a little erratic there in the first couple of innings," he said. "I was fortunate to get out of that unscathed. Any time you walk guys to start innings, you're playing with fire. But the guys behind me made great plays, and that allowed me to get into a little bit of rhythm."

Boggs had an exceptional curveball against the Royals, using it both to get ahead and to finish batters off. But in the eyes of one of his mentors, the key was simpler. Boggs got his power sinker down in the strike zone, opening up the rest of his repertoire.

"I thought he did a better job trying to get the ball down," said Braden Looper, who has fielded plenty of questions from the rookie as Boggs learns to pitch in the Majors. "I think he went into the game with that mind-set. I've been talking to him a lot about that. He's got a good enough fastball that if he just has fastball command, the rest is going to be there."

After six nearly spotless innings, Boggs did get into a little trouble in the seventh. He walked the leadoff man and then permitted a single, and that was all for his evening. Kyle McClellan surrendered a double that brought home one of the runs, but Miguel Olivo was thrown out trying to score on the play. Kansas City did not score again.

Boggs and the bullpen received offensive support from Rick Ankiel, who hit a two-run homer, and Chris Duncan, who struck an RBI single. Two Cardinals runs scored as the result of Kansas City errors.

But even without the help from the Royals defense, Boggs pitched plenty well enough to get his third Major League win.

"He's nasty," said outfielder Skip Schumaker. "He really is nasty. He throws 95 mph with sink and cut, and a big curveball. [Adam] Wainwright told me to watch out for this guy, because he's known him for a bit. I had no idea who he was, but he said this guy's got really good stuff, watch out for him.

"Boggs impresses me more and more every time he steps on the mound."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mulder activated from disabled list

Veteran pitcher will return to Cardinals as a reliever
KANSAS CITY -- The never-ending Mark Mulder saga took another twist on Friday. A day after it was clear that the left-hander would not be ready to start for the Cardinals this weekend, he was activated -- to pitch in relief.

Mulder, who has never made a relief appearance in his career, will pitch out of the bullpen for an indeterminate amount of time. The Cardinals were down a left-handed reliever because Randy Flores is on the disabled list.

"I think we'll see how it goes," Mulder said. "I've never done this before, so let's go give it a shot."

Mulder has not pitched in the Major Leagues this season and has scarcely pitched in the big leagues since the first half of 2006. He underwent shoulder operations in September of that year and again in September '07. Mike Parisi was optioned to Triple-A Memphis to make room for Mulder on the roster.

"You might be able to get something to work in a shorter period of time than trying to stretch it out," said general manager John Mozeliak. "Just getting him back in a competitive environment and seeing where he's at makes a lot of sense for us right now."

Early this year, all indications for Mulder were positive as he tried to come back from the second operation. He threw well in Spring Training and gave the club reasons for optimism early in his Minor League rehab. But as the rehab went on, he didn't progress the way he hoped.

Mulder went back on the DL with shoulder trouble, and he began using a different arm slot. With the new delivery, he made one start on a second rehab assignment, and though the results were subpar, the reports were that he pitched well.

That led the Cardinals to hope for a start for Mulder this weekend in Kansas City, preceded by a short outing on Monday night at Memphis. But a minor back injury intervened, and Mulder did not make that appearance. He threw a bullpen session in Detroit on Thursday, with mixed results.

"I probably hoped for a little better," he said, "but it wasn't. That's kind of the way this whole process has gone."

On Friday, the decision was made to try a different tack.

"I would say it's open-ended, but my hope is that it's viewed as a step forward, and one that would be one that can grow," Mozeliak said. "And if it evolves to where he gets back in the rotation, I think that's great."

Mulder is just happy to be on a Major League roster in any capacity. He has made five big league appearances since late June '06.

"I'm definitely excited," he said. "Obviously there's a need for it, with Flo going down. I always liked facing lefties. We'll see what happens."

Isringhausen could be placed on DL

Cardinals reliever felt 'pop' in right knee while stretching
KANSAS CITY -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa wrote Jason Isringhausen's name on the lineup card Friday, but he did so belatedly and hesitantly.

Isringhausen is dealing with a right knee injury and could be placed on the disabled list this weekend. He felt something "pop" in the joint on Thursday, in between innings of his 2 1/3-inning stint against the Tigers.

"They said it's a strained ligament, a strained tendon and a strained capsule," Isringhausen said.

The right-hander underwent an MRI exam in Kansas City on Friday. However, the Cardinals are waiting on their own head team physician, Dr. George Paletta, to review the results before they decide whether to make a roster move.

"There's clearly some reason for concern at this point," general manager John Mozeliak said.

Isringhausen felt something when he was trying to stretch between innings on Thursday. He retired Gary Sheffield to end the sixth, and as he was trying to stretch out his hips, he evidently knocked something in his knee out of place. He pitched two more innings, however, and, in fact, turned in some of his best pitching of the year after sustaining the injury.

"I'm not a doctor, but to me, I'm like, if I was able to pitch two innings on it, then it's a pain issue," Isringhausen said. "If they can get rid of the pain, I can pitch. Now, they might say if I go out there and try to pitch on it, it could tear it. I don't know. I'm going to talk to the doctor about it."

Cards drop opener to Royals

Glaus' two RBIs provide only runs; St. Louis loses third straight
By Matthew Leach
KANSAS CITY -- The Cardinals limped to the halfway point of the season on Friday night, dropping game No. 81 of the 2008 season to the Royals, 7-2, at Kauffman Stadium.

The Redbirds' 45-36 record, still second best in the National League, nonetheless, carries as many questions as answers even at this late date. It's unclear whether they should receive extra credit for making the most of an injury-decimated roster, and thus potentially becoming a force when everyone is healthy. Or, on the flip side, whether they're hanging on by the slimmest margin, taking on water as fast as they can bail.

It's ultimately a question of perception. In March, a 45-36 halfway record would have looked great. But after the Cardinals reached 13 games over .500 twice, plus-nine has a little less luster.

"I look at nine, when we were 13," manager Tony La Russa said. "We've got to reverse this, get a win tomorrow and have a chance to win the series."

Friday night's defeat certainly presented evidence for the cracks-in-the-foundation side of the argument. An offense that has sputtered for much of June was held down once again. A starter who has pitched better than his record turned in his rockiest showing in nearly two months, while taking one for the team. And a bullpen that has been sorely overtaxed simply wasn't called upon until it could no longer be avoided.

And yet ... take away one hit from Kansas City and give one hit to St. Louis, and it's a drastically different game. Alex Gordon's three-run double with two outs in the second inning was a game-changer, giving the Royals a 4-0 lead. Meanwhile Troy Glaus, who laced three hits later in the evening, popped up with runners on second and third to end the first inning.

Gordon, whose double was part of a four-run Kansas City second inning, then added a solo homer in the fifth. That was enough against Joel Pineiro, who was reached for a good bit of hard contact, but avoided serious trouble in most innings. Pineiro earned plaudits for leaving only one out to the Cardinals' stretched-to-the-limit bullpen.

"He got deep in the game, but he made a couple mistakes," La Russa said. "Two of them to the third baseman [equaled] four runs. You compliment him for staying after it and almost completing the game, but those early mistakes gave them a lot of momentum."

Pineiro is winless in eight straight starts, despite pitching well enough to get a "W" on several occasions. He's gone seven or more innings in three consecutive games, but hasn't won since April 29.

"You can't go out there and expect the guys to get 10 runs every time," Pineiro said. "They're out there battling the same way I'm battling on the mound. So you've just got to keep on pitching, and hopefully good things will happen for us."

Glaus stroked a solo homer in the seventh inning, but it was otherwise a quiet night for the Cardinals' offense. Royals starter Gil Meche worked around some early danger to take control of the game in the middle innings. St. Louis has averaged under four runs per game over the past 14 games.

The Cards lost their third straight game to remain 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs in the National League Central, but they still lead the Brewers by a game for the NL Wild Card. St. Louis must win the final two games of its series in Kansas City to avoid having its second losing road trip of the season.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Momentum mounts under Mozeliak

By Bernie Miklasz
When John Mozeliak took over for the deposed Walt Jocketty last October, he inherited something of a mess: a tired, worn and aging ballclub that needed a transfusion after sputtering to the end of an era in 2007.

Moreover, Mozeliak was replacing a popular general manager who mapped out the plans that landed the Cardinals in the postseason seven times from 1996-2006.

Mozeliak would be working with manager Tony La Russa, a Jocketty loyalist.

And Mozeliak would have to find a way to solder an organizational split that aligned director of player development Jeff Luhnow's sabermetric-based approach against hardened old-school philosophies.

Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt insists that the GM post was offered to no outside candidates. Mozeliak was promoted from inside the organization.

But this wasn't a coveted job, because of the perplexing roster issues and hazardous political minefield that awaited the new GM.

As it turns out, the Cardinals found the right guy, anyway. He was there all along. Mozeliak has done a fine job so far as a rookie GM, deliberately steering the Cardinals to a new direction. And as the season nears the break for the All-Star Game, the Cardinals are outperforming predictions and expectations.

The stale roster was pepped up by the appearance of nine rookies, including Rule V draftee Brian Barton. Unproven veterans who longed for a shot — Ryan Ludwick, Skip Schumaker and Rick Ankiel — were plugged in for their career opportunities. Unhappy, unhealthy and/or disruptive players — including Scott Spiezio, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and David Eckstein — were moved out or set free.

Veterans such as third baseman Troy Glaus, starting pitcher Kyle Lohse and shortstop Cesar Izturis were presented with fresh starts in baseball's most supportive environment.

The disconsolate Rolen, who despised La Russa, was traded for Glaus in a swap of third basemen. Glaus has played outstanding defensively, is a positive clubhouse influence, and is on a pace to drive in 100 runs. Izturis has upgraded the defense at shortstop. And though Lohse got smacked around by the Tigers on Wednesday night, he entered the game with a 9-2 record and 3.63 ERA. Where would the Cardinals be without him?

Mozeliak signed Lohse at the bargain, one-year rate of $4.25 million in March, after many other GMs passed.

Mozeliak was criticized in some circles for giving starting pitcher Joel Pineiro a two-year $13 million contract extension, but given the limited options (and absurd cost) of available starting pitching, the deal made sense. Mozeliak also signed lefty reliever Ron Villone. While Villone's overall ERA is poor (5.65), lefthanded hitters are batting only .159 against him. And that's the role Villone was recruited for; to suppress LH batters.

If you want to harangue Mozeliak for taking one gamble that blew up — spending $1.5 million on rehabbing pitcher Matt Clement — then go right ahead. But it's inconsequential.

Mozeliak had a plan. To shed old layers, stimulate energy and growth and clear the way for younger, rising talent. The strategy was endorsed by La Russa, who recognized the advantage of having a hungry, eager mix of players who must compete with each other for playing time.

In all, Mozeliak has moved the Cardinals into a surprising position: that of a contender. But to get the team into a postseason, he has some work to do:

— Acquire a lefthanded reliever.

— Search for an effective starting pitcher. And let's be fair here; that's probably unrealistic.

— Put an end to the Mark Mulder farce. Mozeliak didn't sign Mulder to this bad deal; that was Jocketty's doing. Unless Mulder can prove soon that he's capable of pitching respectably at the big-league level, it's foolish to block the path of the organization's younger starters (or Brad Thompson) in a stubborn attempt to squeeze something from the Mulder investment.

— Assume tighter control of the roster. Players who aren't producing shouldn't be on the roster at the expense of others who are more deserving of a chance. Example: If Chris Duncan continues to be lost at the plate, he needs to find his swing in the minors. The majors aren't the place for remedial training. As La Russa always is quick to remind us: these games count in the standings.

And so far, Mozeliak has the winning touch.

Flores goes on DL

DETROIT — Lefthander Randy Flores has given up six runs and six walks over five innings in his past 10 appearances and hasn't retired a hitter in his last two outings. And to make room for the return of first baseman Albert Pujols, who served as the DH Thursday, Flores was placed on the disabled list with what the club called peroneal tendinitis in his left ankle.

Flores said he had been bothered by the ankle for several days after he had been running and that it had swelled on Wednesday. But he said that had nothing to do with how he has pitched lately.

"The few games I was ineffective, I was pitching a little too careful for the situation. It had nothing to do with my leg," said Flores, who has a 5.12 earned run average. "I just wasn't getting the job done."
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But pitching coach Dave Duncan said, "It's his push-off leg, and he said he was having trouble pushing off the rubber."

Manager Tony La Russa said Flores would have been out five to seven days anyway, but the club decided to put him on the DL even though he'll miss series against Kansas City and the New York Mets, both of which have lefthanded power in their lineup. Ron Villone is the only lefthander on the team's roster.


After the two talked before the game, La Russa and Pujols decided that Pujols, recovered from a left calf strain, should be the designated hitter in his first game back from the disabled list. Pujols had four hits and an intentional walk in five plate appearances in that role.

"It was a decision that he made, and I went with it," said Pujols, whose preference had been to come back as a full-time first baseman. "Either way he went, it was fine."

Pujols said he hoped to play in the field in Kansas City this weekend, but that depended on if his legs felt as good as he said they did after Thursday's game.

"If I have to DH again, then I'll do it," he said. "No need to rush when you have the advantage of being the DH."


After watching a bullpen throwing session of lefthander Mark Mulder, who has had back spasms on top of his long recovery from two shoulder surgeries, La Russa has determined that rookie Mitchell Boggs will be the starter Saturday in Kansas City.

"He's not ready yet," La Russa said. "He made some good pitches and some that were up. Boggs will pitch."


The Cardinals were two for 11 with men in scoring position Thursday with Troy Glaus and Ryan Ludwick, the Nos. 4 and 5 hitters, 0 for six in those spots, with each going 0 for three. Glaus twice failed to get a runner home from third with under two out, and he hit into a double play to quell a ninth-inning rally.

"Opportunities abounded," Glaus said. "I'd rather have the opportunities than not. However, today was one of those days. We couldn't get that hit to drive in the guy in. We just couldn't get it done."


Righthander Todd Wellemeyer, making his first start in 13 days after suffering some renewed elbow inflammation, worked five shutout innings, giving up four hits among 76 pitches.

"It was good to get my elbow back where it needs to be," Wellemeyer said. "My arm was dropping, and everything was flat."

Cards can't get relief in Pujols' return

Slugger goes 4-for-4 after coming off DL; bullpen slips late
DETROIT -- The operation was an unqualified success. As for the patient, well, he didn't die, but he's not feeling too good.

Two welcome additions gave the Cardinals a huge boost on Thursday afternoon, but they weren't enough to deliver a win in the finale of a three-game Interleague series at Comerica Park. The Cardinals fell to the Tigers, 3-2, when Mike Parisi walked in the winning run in the 10th inning.

Still, Albert Pujols and Todd Wellemeyer thrived in their returns from injury, giving the club reasons for optimism even in the wake of their second road series loss of the year.

"Those are two big positives," said Aaron Miles, who had three hits. "You can't not look at them. Albert looked good; that was great. And of course Welly was lights-out. So that's a big plus."

Still, Parisi's second extra-innings loss in five days underscored a truth about the Cardinals. Even with 12 pitchers currently on the roster, they could use some relief help.

A bullpen that held together well in the early going has frayed at the edges in recent weeks, and it could surely use a boost on the order of what Pujols gave the offense and Wellemeyer gave the starting rotation.

Parisi walked Clete Thomas after the Cardinals chose to go after the rookie rather than struggling superstar Miguel Cabrera. Curtis Granderson led off the inning with a single and took second on a sacrifice bunt.

Carlos Guillen was intentionally walked and Magglio Ordonez flied out, with Granderson taking third base. Cabrera was intentionally walked, loading the bases and bringing up Thomas -- who had drawn an RBI walk off Ron Villone in the sixth.

"You have Cabrera and you have the rookie," manager Tony La Russa said. "And you have to walk in the clubhouse if you get beat. Which one are you going to get beat [by]? And I picked the rookie, even though it's loading the bases."

Pujols, activated from the disabled list prior to the game, rapped four base hits, including a go-ahead RBI single in the top of the ninth. He had been out 15 days due to a strained left calf, and though the slugger appeared to move carefully on the bases, he did not look to be suffering any lingering effects from the injury.

"It's tough when you come off the DL," he said. "You don't see too many live pitches. The worst thing when you come off the DL is to go out there and hack at every pitch you see. I was pretty patient at the plate, just getting a good pitch to hit."

Wellemeyer, who started just once in the previous three weeks, also looked like he'd never been gone. He shut out the potent Tigers for five innings, allowing four hits, striking out three and not issuing a walk. The right-hander had been battling elbow discomfort since a brilliant outing on June 5 in Washington.

He might have pitched longer if he weren't coming back from injury. Wellemeyer needed only 76 pitches to get through five innings, but the Cardinals elected not to push the recuperating righty.

"I felt good," Wellemeyer said. "[My] fastball felt good. I got a hold of my slider in about the fifth inning. I still need to work on the changeup. ... I felt like I was rushing on a few. I'm still working on getting my delivery back to where I want it. But my arm and my elbow felt fine."

Still, their showings weren't quite enough to overcome a gutsy game by Nate Robertson and another bullpen slipup. Robertson allowed 11 hits over 6 1/3 innings, but just one run, as the Cards repeatedly threatened, but rarely converted.

"We had them on the ropes a bunch, but we couldn't push it across like we'd like to," Miles said. "It was a tough game for both sides, after last night, coming in early for the early game. We banged out 14, but we couldn't string them together. Just not enough."

Ron Villone walked Thomas for the first Detroit run in the sixth inning, and Ryan Franklin was charged with a blown save when Gary Sheffield hit a game-tying solo homer in the ninth. Four of St. Louis' past five losses have been charged to relievers.

Rain puts more of a damper on loss

Following lengthy delay, McClellan allows game-winner
DETROIT -- The Cardinals tied a club record and likely at least threatened another on Wednesday night, but neither was the type you want to commemorate. St. Louis relievers equaled an all-time franchise high with two blown saves on the night, and the Cardinals let a total of four leads get away en route to an 8-7 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park.

Gary Sheffield's ninth-inning RBI single off Kyle McClellan ended the marathon game, sending the Cardinals to a frustrating defeat on Wednesday night -- or, more accurately, Thursday morning. The game didn't finish until nearly 1 a.m. local time.

Clete Thomas doubled to right field to open the ninth against McClellan, who had surrendered a game-tying single one inning earlier. The next batter, Sheffield, lined a 3-2 pitch into center field to end the game. McClellan fell behind Thomas, 3-0, before working a 3-2 count, and was behind Sheffield, 3-1 before getting to a full count.

"You can't fall behind hitters in that situation," said McClellan. "Then you've got to make pitches after that. You've got to let them put the ball in play. It's tough to pitch from behind. I got back to 3-2 and it was kind of the same thing. It's tough to pitch around leadoff doubles."

Rick Ankiel hit a pair of homers and Skip Schumaker also went deep, but time and again the Cardinals could not make a lead stick. They were up 2-0, 4-2, 6-5 and 7-6, but every time, Detroit came back to tie or lead.

Kyle Lohse was hit hard and often over four innings, as he saw a six-start winning streak come to an end. Lohse allowed five runs on 11 hits, four of them for extra bases. Lohse, long of the Minnesota Twins, has a 5.95 lifetime ERA against the Tigers.

"I was all over the place tonight," Lohse said. "I was leaving a lot of balls out over the middle. They were down a lot of times, but you can't throw it down the middle and miss the corners. I never got anything going. It seemed like I was constantly pitching from behind and with guys on base. It makes for a long night. I almost got out of it a couple times, but bottom line, I just didn't make good enough pitches."

Chris Perez tossed two shutout innings, but the Tigers rallied repeatedly against the remainder of the St. Louis bullpen.

Jason Isringhausen allowed a run on a bases-loaded double play in the seventh, letting a 6-5 lead get away. After Aaron Miles' RBI single delivered a 7-6 advantage in the eighth, Magglio Ordonez singled off McClellan to tie it once again. The run was charged to Randy Flores, who had allowed the leadoff man to reach base.

Though the visitors scored seven runs, they still left plenty on the table. St. Louis went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left the bases loaded in a pivotal top of the seventh.

A game that was plenty lengthy without help from Mother Nature nonetheless got some help. Play was stopped for two hours and 25 minutes in the fifth inning due to heavy rain in downtown Detroit.

"We had a chance to get the runner from third a couple times and didn't do it, no doubt about it," manager Tony La Russa said. "We also made some mistakes. Lohse threw a ball [numbers-high] for a three-run homer. We did good things, and we made mistakes -- exactly the way the Tigers played."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Offense propels Cards past Tigers

Stavinoha collects first big league RBI; Looper garners ninth win
DETROIT -- The Cardinals put to rest their only bad memory from the 2006 World Series when they beat Kenny Rogers and the Tigers, 8-4, at Comerica Park on Tuesday night.

In a five-game Fall Classic win over Detroit in '06, Rogers' eight-inning scoreless gem was the Redbirds' only blemish. On Tuesday, Rogers held no such hex. His command wasn't sharp, and the Cardinals waited him out for their third win in four games.

Brian Barton doubled, homered and drove in two runs for St. Louis. And when Detroit called on a right-handed relief pitcher, Skip Schumaker pinch-hit for Barton and drove in two more runs with a single to center field. Nick Stavinoha drove in the first run of his big league career with a seventh-inning single, and Brendan Ryan racked up three hits and two RBIs.

It was plenty of offense for Braden Looper, who ran into some trouble but still pitched well enough for his ninth win on the season.

Looper surrendered three home runs after going four straight starts without one. One blast, however, was controversial. Miguel Cabrera's shot in the fourth inning appeared on replay to have hit off the top of the right-field wall, which by rule should not be a homer.

We Would Have Played for Nothing

Edited by Fay Vincent
(Simon & Schuster, 327 pages, $25)
Ex-Baseball Players Recall Life
In the Big Leagues of the 1950s and '60s
Fay Vincent was the Herb Score of baseball commissioners, a man who brought presence and brilliance to the game only to be struck down by an outside force. In the case of Score, the Indians' sensational lefthander, it was a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald in 1957 that curtailed his career. In the case of Mr. Vincent, who became the commissioner in 1989, it was a 1992 power play by team owners who wanted to pick a fight with the Players Association and felt that he was too accommodating to the union. Two years later, the owners got their confrontation. A strike forced cancellation of the 1994 postseason and, some would argue, helped usher in the steroid era.
Fortunately, Mr. Vincent has not abandoned the game that abandoned him. With the financial assistance of investment banker Herbert Allen, he has been conducting the Baseball Oral History Project, the fruits of which are two books of remembrances: "The Only Game in Town" (2006), in which stars of the 1930s and '40s told their stories; and now "We Would Have Played for Nothing," a gathering of pull-up-a-chair conversations with 11 players from the 1950s and '60s.

Ralph Branca willingly reopens the wound from serving up the Shot Heard Round the World at the Polo Grounds in 1951. Bill Rigney, who died in 2001, regrets not shaking Jackie Robinson's hand to welcome him to the major leagues. ("Why I didn't do that, I don't know, because he was standing right there.") Robin Roberts traces his pitching career, most of it spent with the Philadelphia Phillies, from dreams to dominance to desperation. Duke Snider talks about what it was like, as a Brooklyn Dodger, to be the third member of New York's centerfield triumvirate, along with the Giants' Willie Mays and the Yankees' Mickey Mantle.
The simple eloquence of Carl Erskine is on full display -- whether he is chatting about staying at the Brooklyn YMCA as a rookie pitcher with the Dodgers or describing what it was like to raise a son born in 1960 with Down syndrome, a year after his retirement. Erskine credits Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier with helping to make society generally more accepting of people who are different, including "mongoloid" children who might have been ostracized in earlier generations: "There's a momentum in life and in sports. And I think Jackie kicked off a momentum of change that had a sweeping effect."

There are no lurid or scandalous revelations in "We Would Have Played for Nothing," although Whitey Ford does reveal that he and Mantle won a big bet with Giants owner Horace Stoneham when Ford struck out Willie Mays in the 1961 All-Star Game. Lew Burdette credits Burleigh Grimes, the last legal spitball pitcher, with teaching him the value of making the other team think you're throwing a spitball. Harmon Killebrew recounts how an actual senator, Herman Welker of Idaho, talked the Washington Senators into signing him. Brooks Robinson speaks glowingly of his friendship with Frank Robinson, and Frank Robinson circles the bases again in describing the inside-the-park homer that he hit in 1975 in his first at bat as the Cleveland Indians' player-manager -- and baseball's first black manager. And Billy Williams relives the day in 1959 that the Cubs sent scout Buck O'Neil down to Mobile, Ala., to talk him out of quitting baseball.
Jackie Robinson, Casey Stengel, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Mays, Mantle -- they're in the book, too, as recurring characters. Whitey Ford recalls that, unbeknownst to him, Mantle called the pitches in one particular game, signaling them to Berra from centerfield. Turns out that Mantle had been kidding Berra about how easy it was to call a game and Berra dared him to do it himself. So Mantle did just that for seven innings. And Ford pitched a shutout.

Certain themes also run through the personal narratives: racial integration, westward expansion, the growing resentment at the take-it-or-leave-it salaries that players were offered before free agency. All the players recall, with surprising detail, the first professional contracts they signed. Roberts goes back to a three-day tryout he had with the Phillies in Chicago, when the offer kept escalating: "Well, when the signing bonus got to $25,000, I said, 'Is that enough to build a house?' And the guy said, 'Yeah, that'll build it.' I said, 'That's enough.' " Despite earning what now seem laughable sums for putting on the uniform, the former players each express a deep sense of gratitude to the game and to the people who helped them along the way. Erskine relates how a thoughtful minor-league manager named Jack Onslow on an opposing team told him that he was tipping off his pitches. To his sorrow, Erskine says, "I never thanked Jack Onslow."

With Mr. Vincent's assistance, he now does. But that's just one of the services that the former commissioner provides. He is donating his proceeds from the books' sales to the Hall of Fame, which will also get the tapes of the interviews. In his introduction to "We Would Have Played for Nothing," Mr. Vincent pays tribute to "The Glory of Their Times," Lawrence Ritter's 1966 collection of reminiscences from baseball players in the early 20th century. Mr. Vincent's own volumes are worthy sequels, time machines that allow the players -- and us -- to relive their days on the diamonds.

Don't assume that their era was any simpler than ours; these men had to deal with war, politics, racism, alcohol abuse. Perhaps in future years, someone will produce a similar volume on the stars at the turn of the 21st century who had to wrestle with the dilemma presented by performance-enhancing drugs, a struggle that might have been eased by a commissioner willing to work with the union. Oh, well.

As gentle and as loving as this volume is, Mr. Vincent does use his dedication to jab at the people who have closed the doors of the Hall of Fame to a certain union leader: "To the estimable Marvin Miller -- whose contributions to baseball continue to be ignored by those blinded by their own ignorance."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cards show moxie in 13-inning loss

La Russa impressed by team's refusal to give in to Red Sox
BOSTON -- The Cardinals showed as much in defeat on Sunday as they did in rousing wins on Friday and Saturday. And their manager wanted to make sure they knew that.

So when St. Louis players trudged into the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park, still smarting from a 5-3 defeat in 13 innings against the reigning World Series champions, Tony La Russa led all of the club's support staff in a round of applause.

"All of us that complement this team -- the trainers, equipment guys, the coaches, myself, traveling secretary -- we tipped our caps and clapped for these guys," La Russa said. "You can't watch that kind of effort for three days and have that kind of game at the end without giving them some kind of special recognition.

"We made a point to say what a privilege it was to be in the same uniform and watch that competition, and we gave them a round of applause and tipped our caps. That was really a great effort."

It was that kind of showing, in victory and defeat, for three days for the Cardinals at Fenway. A team that had grave regrets after the 2004 World Series -- not so much about the outcome, but about not showing what they were capable of -- harbored no such disappointment after a return trip to the historic stadium.

"We got beat," said starting pitcher Joel Pineiro, "but it was a great series and a great game. Today's not one of those games where you're walking with your head down and kicking stuff."

Had the game ended four innings earlier, it might have been viewed in a much different light. The Cardinals let a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning slip away, and they entered the ninth with a one-run deficit. But a down-to-the-last-strike rally against Jonathan Papelbon forced extra innings and ultimately helped cast the game with a memorable glow.

"Just a hellacious game," La Russa said. "That's one of those things that makes you enjoy this level of competition. Both clubs had chances. Lot of heroics to get something going, a lot of heroics to stop them. What a great competition."

The Cardinals took a two-run lead into the seventh, but the game turned against them over the final frames. Pineiro, who had been impeccable for 6 2/3 innings, missed badly with a fastball to Kevin Youkilis in the seventh, and Youkilis tattooed it for a solo homer.

In the eighth, Pineiro was betrayed by his defense when Rick Ankiel overran a Coco Crisp fly ball to center. Ankiel wasn't able to correct himself in time, and Crisp had an easy triple, chasing Pineiro.

"I just got to where I thought it was going to be, and when I got there, it wasn't," Ankiel said. "I just misplayed it, I guess. I think it cut, because I was right there. I was calling it, and all of a sudden, it was behind me."

Julio Lugo's sacrifice fly against Chris Perez tied the game. Perez walked the bases loaded, then Mike Lowell for the go-ahead run. Perez retired Jacoby Ellsbury for the second out, and Dustin Pedroia poked a single to right field.

Requiring only one out to escape with a tie intact, Perez couldn't deliver. He walked J.D. Drew to put the winning run in scoring position, loaded the bases with an unintentional-intentional walk to Manny Ramirez and walked Lowell for the deciding run.

"I just didn't make the pitches," Perez said. "I fell behind, tried to come in and missed inside. And the last one wasn't close either -- four bad pitches. Our game plan was to attack him with the fastball away, because he tries to pull everything, and my stuff matched up good for that situation. It just didn't work out that way."

Yet the Redbirds showed life in the ninth, mounting a mini-rally to force extras. After Papelbon struck out the first two batters of the inning, Chris Duncan walked and Adam Kennedy lined a game-tying double.

As regulation time turned to extra innings, the game continued to get more memorable. The Red Sox knocked leadoff doubles in the 10th, 11th and 12th, but never got the run home. The Cardinals, meanwhile, put a runner into scoring position with fewer than two outs in the 10th, 11th and 13th, but likewise never delivered.

Their best shot came in the 13th, when Duncan doubled and Kennedy singled to right field. Third-base coach Jose Oquendo sent Duncan home, but Drew made a tremendous throw and Jason Varitek held onto the ball as Duncan barreled into him. Skip Schumaker flied out to end the inning, and two batters later, the game was over. Mike Parisi allowed a leadoff single to Lowell, and Youkilis followed by crushing a pitch from Parisi over the Green Monster.

Game over. But point made, just the same. Facing a playoff-caliber opponent, the Cardinals played playoff baseball.

"You look back and it's an 'L,' but the tenacity that each one of our pitchers showed in going after those guys and getting the big outs when we needed them, and to come back in the ninth on Papelbon, it shows the heart and the reason this team is as good as it is," said Aaron Miles, who had five hits. "A lot of tough guys in here."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cards power up, poised for sweep

Backed by Glaus' slam, Boggs' solid outing bests Red Sox
BOSTON -- It's not one of them. It's all of them.

After a stagnant week, the Cardinals' offense continued to find its way on Saturday, thanks to another multi-pronged attack. Three different Cardinals hit home runs, making it six Redbirds with a long ball in two games, as St. Louis steamrolled the World Series champion Red Sox, 9-3, at Fenway Park.

For more than a week, the Cardinals had scuffled in the absence of Albert Pujols, who is sidelined with a left calf strain. Batters appeared to get away from the patient approaches that served them so well for the season's first two months, and it seemed that nearly everyone in the lineup tried to be a hero.

Through two games at Fenway, that has all changed. The Cards have tallied 14 runs against a quality pitching staff. They've rapped 22 base hits, including those six long balls by six different players. They even drew five walks on Saturday, their most since June 11 -- the day after Pujols went on the DL.

"You take the best hitter out of any lineup, it's going to leave a big mark," said Troy Glaus, whose grand slam was the biggest hit of the game. "I don't care what team it is. But the last two days were examples. The home runs are great, but we moved runners, we got hits when we needed to get hits, we drew walks, we did things we needed to do to be successful."

Cardinals batters recognized quickly on Saturday that they were facing a diminished pitcher, and they adjusted. Daisuke Matsuzaka, making his first start since a disabled-list stint due to shoulder troubles, had a terrible time throwing strikes. Matsuzaka needed 35 pitches to endure a four-run first, and it got even worse from there.

He didn't even retire a batter in the second, leaving with the bases loaded and nobody out. Rookie Chris Smith set down the first batter he faced, but surrendered Glaus' slam, which doubled the Cards' advantage to 8-0 and turned the game into a laugher.

"We caught a break," manager Tony La Russa said. "[Matsuzaka] was coming off the disabled list, and you could tell he was rusty. He'd fall behind and had to throw the ball down the middle. Sometimes you pop it up. We didn't today."

Aaron Miles' first home run of the year, a two-run shot, highlighted a four-run first. Rick Ankiel also hit a homer, a solo blast in the seventh. The Cardinals' run total was their highest since that same June 11 game, and they scored more than three runs on consecutive days for the first time without Pujols.

"I guess you could say we were in a little bit of a lull there that last series we had at home, but I think it's normal for teams to do that," Miles said. "Any team -- the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cardinals -- anybody can have lulls like that. I think we've been a pretty good offensive team that's been able to get on base regularly, and we took a bunch of good at-bats today."

Handed the lead, rookie Mitchell Boggs made it stand. Boggs allowed plenty of hard contact, but minimized the damage and survived for his second win in three big league starts. Boggs permitted three runs on five hits over 5 1/3 innings, striking out one and walking two.

It made for a perfect day for Boggs, who also celebrated a big College World Series win for his alma mater, the University of Georgia. The 'Dawgs have secured a place in the CWS championship series.

"I was excited about this opportunity," said Boggs, who improved to 2-0. "This is one of the great places in sports. I wanted to control my emotions. I didn't want to get too hyped up for it, because it's still my job to go out there and get guys out, but it was a special day for me."

In a matchup of the National League's best road team and the American League's best home team, the road warriors won out again. St. Louis improved to 21-15 away from Busch Stadium, while Boston dropped to 28-9 at Fenway. By taking the first two games of the three-game series, the Cardinals sent the Red Sox to their first series loss at home since April 22-24 and their second all year. St. Louis remained 3 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the National League Central.

Late blasts give Lohse sixth straight win

Schumaker, Molina back Cardinals right-hander's quality start

BOSTON -- Three guys who are not supposed to deliver home runs did for the Cardinals on Friday night. More importantly, three players who are supposed to for the Red Sox, did not.

Skip Schumaker, Jason LaRue and Yadier Molina all went deep for the visiting Redbirds as they snapped a three-game losing streak and beat the Red Sox, 5-4, at Fenway Park in the opener of an Interleague series between the past two World Series champions. Entering the game, Schumaker, LaRue and Molina had combined for eight dingers on the year.

Meanwhile, three different Cardinals pitchers escaped scary situations with the menacing heart of the Red Sox order at the plate. Kyle Lohse, Russ Springer and Ryan Franklin all walked a highwire, and all three made it to the other side. Lohse won his sixth straight start, while Franklin picked up the first two-inning save of his career.

"We had a lot of heroes," manager Tony La Russa said.

The list started with Lohse, who made it seven consecutive solid starts. After breezing through a 1-2-3 first, he found himself in trouble in the second thanks to a walk and a Cesar Izturis error. Loshe struck out Kevin Youkilis, gave up a one-out bloop single and a sacrifice fly, and got out of the inning when Kevin Cash hit into a force play.

But that was just a warmup for Lohse's true Houdini act. In the fifth, two balls fell in for singles that at least arguably could have been turned into outs by the St. Louis defense. With the bases loaded and one out, Manny Ramirez strode to the plate -- and Lohse struck him out, looking. Mike Lowell followed by grounding into a force, and Lohse had preserved a 1-1 tie.

"That's where I really had to bear down and not think about the situation I was in," Lohse said. "Just think about what pitch I needed to make. It's clichéd, but I really had to take it one pitch at a time and not get ahead of myself. Because if you don't have complete concentration one on of those pitches, it's a home run easily."

After the Cardinals took a 2-1 lead in the sixth, Lohse surrendered a Julio Lugo homer, but six innings with one earned run is a spectacular effort against the Red Sox at Fenway.

"Loshie pitched, for me, probably the best game of the year," Schumaker said. "That lineup is one of the best in all the big leagues. He was so impressive and dominant. I'm not surprised anymore, because I've seen him do it again and again, time after time."

It was in the next half-inning when Schumaker gave the Cardinals another lead, one they would not give up. He cranked a two-run homer off Tim Wakefield, who had gotten three easy outs against Schumaker earlier in the evening.

"I was trying to throw strike one and work from there," said Wakefield, "and the ball didn't do anything."

Even then, nothing was safe for the Cardinals. Randy Flores loaded the bases on a single and two walks to open the seventh, once again presenting Ramirez with a perfect RBI chance. This time, Springer retired the future Hall of Famer, inducing a double-play grounder, before striking out Lowell. The Red Sox got a single run, but the lead was intact.

"To me, that was the key to the game," Lohse said.

Molina's homer in his first start after missing three games due to a concussion made it 5-3, and Franklin put away the Red Sox in the bottom of the eighth. He got into trouble in the ninth, though, and once again the Cardinals had to face those sluggers. A Dustin Pedroia double brought the tying run to the plate, and an unintentional-intentional walk to Ramirez made Lowell the potential go-ahead run. This time Lowell singled home a run, but Franklin retired Youkilis to end the game.

"We're making pitches when we have to," Franklin said. "Those are outstanding hitters up there, and they've proved it for a long time."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cardinals drop three in a row to Royals

Only three Redbirds reach base off Kansas City pitchers

ST. LOUIS -- The few blotches of Royals fans brought the brooms to Busch Stadium on Thursday and had good reason to celebrate.

All the while, the 44,000-plus Cardinals fans had to sit and watch their team get swept for the first time ever by the Royals, losing, 4-1, in the series finale. It was the sixth time in the last seven games that the Cardinals have scored three runs or fewer.

"They did a good job," said right fielder Ryan Ludwick. "Just shut us down."

The flight to Boston on Thursday night cannot be too pleasant as the Cardinals experienced one of their worst three-game stretches this year. For the first time this season, a team swept St. Louis and no club had accomplished that feat at Busch Stadium since April 1-4, 2007.

Only three runners reached base for the Cardinals all game while Zack Greinke threw seven innings and struck out seven batters for the Royals. Greinke relinquished a walk to Cards starter Brad Thompson, a solo home run to Rick Ankiel and a single to Aaron Miles.

Greinke's two hits allowed on Thursday were the fewest the Cardinals have recorded in a game this year.

"He's spotting that fastball down and away all day long," Ludwick said. "Then he'll come in and keep you honest and he's got that hard slider, too. He did a good job today, but then again, that's no excuse."

And that was it for the Cardinals at home in June. They now have nine Interleague games in a row, traveling to Boston, Detroit and finishing in Kansas City.

"How much tougher can it get?" said manager Tony La Russa, brushing off the tough schedule ahead. "[Four] runs in three days is tough."

But the hitting woes have gone on longer than the past three games, longer than Albert Pujols' departure to the disabled list. Since May 21, the Cardinals are batting .251 and are 15-10 over their last 25 games.

When Pujols hit the DL, that only worsened the issue. St. Louis has scored fewer than four runs a game in its past seven games, a number inflated by a 10-0 victory the day after Pujols' injury.

Good teams go through their rough stretches, but with their upcoming schedule, the Cardinals had better figure out something quick on the offensive end. Their next six games come against teams that can score a flurry of runs in no time.

"You're going to have stretches when the offense isn't clicking, but you still have to find ways to win," Ludwick said. "Unfortunately, we didn't do that this series."

The pitching has been there for the Cardinals. Following two superb performances from Joel Pineiro and Braden Looper, Thompson returned to pitch his first game in the Majors since April 22.

Thompson fared well through his five innings of work, giving up only two runs and scattering five hits. In the fourth, facing the heart of the order, Thompson gave up three straight hits to put the Royals up, 2-0.

"We had a couple ground balls that just found their holes and they did some damage that inning," said Thompson, who was told he would be optioned to Triple-A Memphis following the loss. The Cardinals have not announced who they will call up for him.

Jason Isringhausen made his second appearance since rejoining the club. He pitched 2 1/3 innings in relief of Thompson -- the longest Isringhausen has thrown in a game for the Cardinals.

Since recalled, Isringhausen has looked like the Izzy of old, giving up only one hit in 3 1/3 innings.

"All it is, is just getting comfortable again," Isringhausen said. "Seems like the more I throw, the more comfortable I get."

But as well as the pitching has been this year, too many times great outings have been spoiled by a lack of offense -- several of those coming in the last few games. So far, however, the slump is not a cause for concern.

"Yeah, we had a couple of bad days, but it's three games," Ludwick said, citing the Cardinals' two wins over the first-place Phillies earlier in the week. "It's not fun losing, by any means."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another Series Opener, Another Loss

Cards lost to the Royals 2-1 last night. No big deal. They'll just win the next two. They've only done that eight times this year. Why not nine?

With Davies being so unfamiliar to the Cards (and with no Pujols or Molina) it's not terribly surprising the offense struggled. Great pitching performance, though, by Hero Joel Pineiro. Too bad the Goat Ron Villone lost it for him. Granted, the Cards should have put up more runs, but giving up a HR in a situation like that is unacceptable.

VEB runs down the problems with the left side of the bullpen today. There's no doubt that something that was such a strength for the Cards just a couple of years ago is now there most glaring weakness. I mean, does anyone want to see Villone or Randy Flores in a game anytime soon, especially a close one? I don't think so. Not sure what the team will do about it, but with an offense that's likely to sputter, the Cards can't afford to give away games with a weak bullpen.

Good to see Jason Isringhausen back, though. The sooner he is healthy and ready to go mentally and can take the closer slot away from Ryan Franklin, the better in my book.

Todd Wellemeyer is going to miss his next start, meaning Anthony Reyes will take the mound. First, does anyone not think Wellemeyer is going to wind up on the DL? A missed start, a terrible outing, and then another missed start. Second, I'm excited to see what Reyes can do. I'd like to see him make the decisions coming up tough. Third, it is very interesting that Mulder is pitching on the same day at AAA Memphis. If Reyes flops, Wellemeyer is still hurt and Mulder dominates, I'd expect Mulder to be pitching in Detroit when that rotation spot next comes up.

Chris Carpenter's pain problem isn't really a problem, which is great news. They may take it a little easier on him for a while, but it's one of the few times where this situation comes out positive instead of more surgery being required. I personally feel much better about it when Dr. Andrews says it's fine. Not that we don't trust the Cardinal staff, it's that we don't trust the Cardinal staff.

Mulder on Thursday and Clement on Friday. Memphis is the place to be at the end of this week! Plus Carpenter, rematches of the last two Cardinal World Series and another skirmish with the Royals. I'm sure Mike will have plenty to talk about when he fills in. (Though you are stuck with me for another day!)

Praise Be To Whatever God You Pray To

here is joy in Cardinal Nation. Chris Carpenter is ok. Well, pretty much ok. After a surprisingly smooth and speedy road to recovery (as far as Tommy John surgery is concerned), Carpenter hit a speed bump. But at least it wasn’t a brick wall. There was speculation that a second surgery would be required after the former Cy Young winner complained of soreness in his newly reconstructed elbow. After a few different medical opinions and a few mild heart attacks by passionate Cardinal fans, it turns out that one surgery was enough and the soreness is merely a minor setback. Carp will be backed up a couple of days and his pitch counts will likely be reduced, but after a few simulated starts he should be right back to where he was before this new scare came into play.

His projected return to the rotation, barring any other setbacks of course, should be somewhere between late July and early August. And Chris Carpenter isn’t one to mess around with his health. You can bet your sweet caboose that he won’t come back unless he is fully healthy, or at least at a point where he can be effective and help the team win. Basically the opposite of what we’ve seen so far from Mark Mulder since his inexplicably frail arm crapped out in 2006.

So, with Carpenter’s return and assuming Wainwright and Wellemeyer recover on schedule, the Cardinals rotation for the final 2 months of the season will look something like this:

1. Chris Carpenter

2. Adam Wainwright

3. Todd Wellemeyer

4. Kyle Lohse

5. Braden Looper/Joel Pineiro

Not too shabby eh? The above rotation represents quite a formidable jump from a patchwork of rookies and reclamation projects that have gotten by on guts and spot starts, to one of the most imposing groups in the National League, if not all of baseball. There can’t be a manager in the game that would look forward to facing a healthy Carpenter, Wainwright and Wellemeyer in a 5-game series.

Monday, June 16, 2008

La Russa’s card tricks keep St. Louis afloat

By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports Jun 14, 10:48 pm EDT

ST. LOUIS – It was the middle finger, of course, as though the baseball gods were pulling some kind of a joke at the expense of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Here you go, boys. Let’s see you handle this one.

Oh, that was only the beginning, the pop on starter Adam Wainwright’s right bird that sent him to the disabled list. Next to come up lame was Albert Pujols, only the National League’s best hitter, with a strained left calf that put him on the DL for at least three weeks. Then pitcher Todd Wellemeyer getting battered around after missing a start with elbow pain, the two perhaps intertwined. Followed by former Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter complaining of pain in his own elbow on the way back from Tommy John surgery.

And still, here they are, the Cardinals, the little team that could, sporting the NL’s second-best record halfway through June with a makeshift lineup and thrown-together rotation. No longer can it be passed off as an illusion. The Cardinals – when healthy – are legitimately a good team, enjoyable to watch, easy to root for, the antithesis of what pundits, yours truly included, figured they’d be.
Then again, that caveat – when healthy – is imperative, because their NL Central rivals, the Chicago Cubs, are playing like the best team in baseball. The Cardinals, at 41-29 after a 3-2 victory Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies, face their toughest days ahead without Pujols, their rock, Wainwright, their ace, and perhaps Wellemeyer, their panned gold.

“Lately it’s gotten a little unfair,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “You lose Albert, you lose Wainwright, (Joel) Piñeiro was missing. All that stuff gets to be a little unfair.

“If it gets excessive, it kind of pisses you off.”

La Russa is a lot of things. A whiner isn’t one of them. He has taken a team of two stars, a few veterans and a cache of retreads and fringe prospects and turned them into a team intent on winning. His ability to so marry the group to one cause ranks among his best managing jobs yet in a career now in its 30th season.

“There’s a lot of fight in us,” said outfielder Ryan Ludwick, one of the retreads who might have played himself onto the All-Star team with a virtuoso performance as a 29-year-old. “I don’t see a whole lot of guys worried about what’s going on.”

Ludwick glanced around the clubhouse.

“Like, Skip Schumaker,” Ludwick said, referring to the 28-year-old playing his first full major-league season. “Watching him, I knew he was a good player, and it was a matter of time for him to play every day. He’s a .300 hitter. You’ve got Rick Ankiel. Guy’s a good player. He’s only going to get better. And I got hurt at 23 and fell through the cracks, but I always felt like I could play.”

On Ludwick went, covering half of the Cardinals roster – literally, he trotted out a dozen names – before stopping himself. Let the record speak for the team instead of the team for the record.

“We just have to stay afloat,” Ludwick said. “You lose Albert and Waino, and, yeah, you get really upset, but I don’t think our season’s over. If you look at it that way, you’re done.”

Admit defeat? Now that isn’t La Russa’s style. For more than two months, the NL Central and others around baseball have been waiting for the other spike to drop, and it hasn’t. The Cardinals have played three-card monte with their rotation, somehow cobbling it together out of eight starters, three of whom have been on the disabled list, with Wellemeyer perhaps making a fourth.

Two more are scheduled to be activated, though Cardinals brass realize that counting on a healthy Mark Mulder and Matt Clement is like believing the cable guy’s going to show up when he says so. Yes, it would be nice to slot either in the rotation and replace rookie Mitchell Boggs, who replaced Mike Parisi, who looked like an ant versus a shoe.

La Russa knows better than to count on anyone, Pujols – his iron man with a like threshold for pain – included.

“Every day you look at who’s available,” La Russa said. “You compete with what you have. It’s counterproductive to say, ‘Boy, we don’t have, we don’t have.’ We’ve got plenty here to compete and have a chance to win. It’s who’s playing, not who’s missing. That’s how you survive.”

The Cardinals would make Gloria Gaynor proud. It’s not just the Ludwicks and Wellemeyers, the ones in whom new general manager John Mozeliak had such faith. It’s the Cardinals’ remarkable ability to cover the field, Ankiel and Pujols and Cesar Izturis and, yes, even Troy Glaus making a nifty number of plays out of their zone. And it’s pitching coach Dave Duncan, Leo Mazzone without the self-promotion, molding a suspect staff into a strength.

One of the starters, Kyle Lohse, pitched eight great innings Saturday. He missed most of spring training angling for a big-money contract and settled for one year at $4.25 million. Now, having bought into Duncan and the Cardinals, he’s primed for that extension.

“We’ve shown the whole time we can scrap out wins like we did today,” Lohse said.

And that’s the right word: scrap. The Cardinals are not the most talented team and they’re not the prettiest and they’re not the most athletic or fastest or smartest or even best. They’ve just won, and they’d like to keep doing so, injuries be damned.

“We’re trying to stay alive,” La Russa said.

Later on, La Russa stared at the wooden podium in front of him, curled up his fist and rapped it twice. He turned it toward his face and gave an additional pair of knocks. He knows that the Cardinals’ success isn’t due to luck. But he doesn’t want to take any chances.

Rotation situation

Rotation situation

The Cardinals have tentatively listed Todd Wellemeyer as Thursday’s starting pitcher against the Kansas City Royals but will wait until Wellemeyer completes a Tuesday bullpen to make it stick.

Wellemeyer cited elbow stiffness after Friday’s abbreviated outing within a 20-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, prompting a Sunday conversation with general manager John Mozeliak and team trainers. The club is reluctant to start Wellemeyer if any question lingers about the elbow. Friday’s start came on seven days’ rest following elbow tightness in Washington.

One option the club apparently will not consider should Wellemeyer need more time is Mark Mulder.

"He needs to pitch enough to where he really feels good about coming to the big leagues," manager Tony La Russa said after Sunday’s 10-inning win. "There is no way to know that yet."

Asked for a potential timetable, La Russa said, "I think he’ll pitch one more, for sure, then maybe another one and another one. I don’t know. We need him to come up and be Mark Mulder."

Mulder reported no negative side effects Sunday from Saturday’s five shutout innings in a rehab start at Double-A Springfield. Special assignment scout Alan Benes filed a positive report citing Mulder’s improved command and consistent velocity from a lower arm slot. However, the outing was Mulder’s first since a previous rehab was shut down last month.

Matt Clement started the second game of Springfield’s Saturday doubleheader but apparently is considered an emergency option only. Clement’s velocity remains a concern almost two years after he required shoulder reconstruction.

After working Sunday’s 10th inning, Anthony Reyes could be available Thursday, or La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan could also install Kyle Lohse on regular rest.

Given today’s off day, Lohse is now scheduled to start Friday’s opener at Fenway Park against the defending world champion Boston Red Sox.

Brad Thompson, disabled since April 23 with a right elbow condition, earned Saturday’s win for Triple-A Memphis by throwing five innings at Round Rock. Thompson allowed four runs, including a solo home run.

Joel Pineiro is scheduled to start Tuesday’s series opener followed by Braden Looper on Wednesday.

Lohse Significance

Kyle Lohse (8-2) was among the last free agents pitchers to sign last winter. He is also one of the most effective.

Lohse’s eight-inning appearance Saturday afternoon made him one of only two pitchers to win at least eight games this year after switching teams last offseason. The Cincinnati Reds’ Edinson Volquez (9-2) has emerged as the league’s second-leading winner after coming over in a trade from the Texas Rangers. The deal sent MVP candidate Josh Hamilton to the Rangers.

Lohse has earned six wins this season in which he lasted six innings or less. Only the New York Yankees’ Mike Mussina (7) and Cardinals teammate Braden Looper (6) have as many, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Lohse leads the major leagues in win percentage (.857) since last July 25. Saturday marked Lohse’s fifth consecutive win, making him the first pitcher since Camilo Pascual in 1959 to win five straight starts after enduring a losing record each of the four previous years.

Roster Move Cometh

The Cardinals are likely to promote a catcher from Memphis to back up Jason La Rue while Yadier Molina recovers from what the club reported Sunday as a mild concussion.

Molina is not likely to be disabled; however, the Cardinals are likely to revert to 12 pitchers for at least several days to give themselves insurance. Prospect Bryan Anderson and veteran Mark Johnson are catching at Memphis. Neither is on the 40-man roster but Johnson may rate the edge due to four-plus years’ major-league service. Johnson, 32, was with the Chicago White Sox for full seasons in 1999, 2000 and 2002. He last appeared in the major leagues for seven games with the 2004 Milwaukee Brewers.

Carpenter to be Examined

Birmingham, Ala., orthopedist Dr. James Andrews will examine Chris Carpenter today and offer a second opinion regarding persistent near the former Cy Young Award winner’s right forearm. A nerve problem is suspected but Andrews’ opinion is being sought regarding whether corrective surgery is needed.

The club shut down Carpenter after a bullpen throw last Wednesday. Carpenter reported particular problems when he attempted to throw breaking pitches. He is rehabilitating from shoulder surgery last July 25.

Miles Deals Again

Infielder Aaron Miles is understandably proud about Friday’s shutout ninth inning against the Phillies.

Miles has made three relief appearances the last two seasons, allowing three this without a walk or a strikeout in three innings. (He has hit a batter.) Miles took damage last season when Houston Astros catcher J.R. Towles reached him for a home run at Busch Stadium but sports a 6.00 ERA.

Miles warmed up Friday in the indoor batting cage by throwing to third baseman Troy Glaus. He never attempted a breaking pitch but admitted to throwing a change-up

"I took everybody’s advice and didn’t try to throw as hard as I could," Miles said. "If it has some movement I’ve got a chance."


Molina's toughness defines '08 Redbirds

By Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz
Sports Columnist Bernie Miklasz
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Yadier Molina was face down in the dirt, not moving or stirring, as the silent thoughts and prayers came down from every corner of Busch Stadium to cover him.

The Cardinals' catcher, the hardest steel of their inner core, was collapsed in a heap.

And at this accident scene, no one knew what to do, what to think.

The catching gear couldn't provide the armor to protect Molina from the blind-side hit at home plate, with Philadelphia's Eric Bruntlett crashing into Molina's back in the top of the ninth inning and the score tied 6-6.

Bruntlett had nowhere to go. There was no other path leading to the go-ahead run and a series win for the Phillies. But you knew that Molina wasn't about to concede an inch of territory. You knew he would not flinch as he reached for and handled first baseman Chris Duncan's low throw to the far side of the plate. Molina had to sense what was coming, even if he couldn't see it. He had no time to turn and brace for the impact. So Molina held his ground and put his body in harm's way. He knew he'd get clobbered.

As manager Tony La Russa said, Molina's a tough man.

Bruntlett did what he had to do, except bring the tank required to dislodge the baseball from Molina's vise. And when these cross purposes met at the intersection of Blood and Guts on Sunday afternoon, Molina still had an unbreakable grip on the baseball and the 6-6 tie.

Before Molina put his head down, before his brain began spinning in the throes of a mild concussion, he raised his hand to show the ball to umpire Tim McClellan.

And over the next few minutes, the fans didn't breathe much as they watched Molina get fastened to a stretcher and carted off the field.

"How he held onto the ball, I don't know," said pitcher Ryan Franklin, who watched from the mound. "But I do know there's no way he was going to let go of it."
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Molina wasn't around to see the Cardinals win it for him in the bottom of the 10th, taking advantage of a Philly error, a Troy Glaus single and another error to prevail 7-6. The home team had blown a 5-1 lead. And their beloved catcher had been relieved of his senses — if not the baseball.

And still, they won.

They won to improve to 42-29. They won to make their record 15-3-5 in series played. They overcame Friday's 20-2 loss to the Phillies to win the series. And when Molina wouldn't budge, that was the play of the summer, the play that told you all you needed to know about what drives the 2008 Cardinals.

Maybe, just maybe, down deep the Phillies knew it was time to go home instead of trying to outlast La Russa's stubborn maniacs. You had the feeling that it would have taken a few more ambulance rides to the hospital to get the Cardinals to back down.

"We've taken some hits, but we can't curl up and die," reliever Kyle McClellan said. "We've got to fight and that's what we're going to do."

Even after Molina's last stand, the Cardinals had work to do. Franklin had two outs and the bases loaded and squared to face the excellent Chase Utley. Franklin thought of Molina.

"I mean, just seeing that happen right there, that gets my adrenaline going even more," he said. "... That kind of builds more fire inside of me and I want to get him out."

Utley was retired on a routine fly ball.

Then prodigal son Anthony Reyes returned from the minors to retire Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell and Geoff Jenkins on 10 pitches in the top of the 10th. And then the Cardinals watched the Phillies defense break down, plating the winning run.

La Russa was almost folksy afterwards He said he wanted to go "pat the boys on the back" for winning the game, the series.

The game ball goes to Molina. Just don't try to take it from him.

Cards win after Molina takes blow at plate

They walked home two runs to blow the remnants of a four-run lead.

They endured yet another run of more than five innings on a well-worn bullpen and were only four for 26 at the plate after the third inning.

Along with a silenced Busch Stadium crowd of 45,391, they witnessed catcher Yadier Molina get steamrolled on a ninth-inning tag play that quashed a potential game-losing rally.

Once more for the Cardinals on Sunday, reason had less to do with an outcome than persistence and an unwillingness to bend. Moments after watching Molina carted from the field, they built a game-winning rally upon a pair of two-out errors sandwiched around a single to take a 7-6 decision over the Philadelphia Phillies.
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Rick Ankiel scored the winning run when reliever Tom Gordon, covering first base, whiffed

on second baseman Chase Utley's throw. Two batters earlier Ankiel had reached on a nearly identical play, this one a throwing error charged to Utley.

"Somebody might look at these games we're winning and wonder how. But we're doing small things that add up to a lot. Hopefully, we can continue to do it," said infielder Aaron Miles.

The Cardinals improved to 8-0-1 in nine series since May 15. They took down the big-swinging Phillies while being outscored 28-12.

On Sunday they used a barrage of extra-base hits to take a 5-1, third-inning lead against Phillies righthander Brett Myers before the visitors rallied against scatter-armed relief.

Said manager Tony LaRussa: "If you get to October and you've made the playoffs, you look back and say, 'Man, that's how we got there.' But we can't celebrate now. We've got to keep going."
Collision at plate weighs on Bruntlett
Notebook: Rotation situation
Photos: Cards 7, Phillies 6

The Phillies left 15 runners on base and had 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals stranded six and took only nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. The Phillies committed three errors, the Cardinals none.

"We didn't do some things very good today," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That game was sitting there for us and we didn't get it."

A 42-29 club has lost pitcher Adam Wainwright, first baseman Albert Pujols and possibly Molina during the last 10 days.

"The last couple weeks our big guys have been dropping like flies," noted left fielder Skip Schumaker, who contributed a double and a home run to the team's first two rallies. "We're still winning games. But if we're going to do anything later on this year we're going to need those guys back. That's no secret. But the fact we're winning games like this without our big guys says a lot about what we have going on here."

Molina was carted from the field after being strapped to a backboard and was taken to Missouri Baptist Hospital, where he remained overnight with what the team said is a mild concussion.

"He's one of our key guys we need out there every single day," backup catcher Jason LaRue said. "As far as pitching, he's probably the most important guy on this team. … You cringe anytime you see a play like that."

With the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard chased rookie starter Mitchell Boggs with a two-run single. Kyle McClellan limited the Phillies' rally to one more run before pitching a scoreless sixth. Ankiel's leadoff triple to right field led to a run on first baseman Chris Duncan's RBI grounder.

Chris Perez, who entered in the seventh inning, was within one pitch of closing the eighth when shortstop Jimmy Rollins tripled. Perez left after walking the potential tying run and a near-calamity ensued.

Consecutive walks by Randy Flores forced home one run and left the bases loaded for Russ Springer. Springer walked left fielder Pat Burrell to force home Jayson Werth for a 6-6 game.

The Phillies placed runners on first and third with one out against Franklin in the ninth inning when Rollins grounded to Duncan, whose throw short-hopped the plate to the home dugout side. His back to the runner, Molina picked the throw and continued to turn as Bruntlett collided with him. Molina held on to the ball despite staying motionless for several minutes. The threat ended when Franklin got the dangerous Utley to fly out.

Anthony Reyes (2-1) inherited a tie game barely 24 hours after being promoted as the team's 13th pitcher and recorded the only 1-2-3 inning by a Cardinals reliever.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wellemeyer re-examined

Starting pitcher Todd Wellemeyer was examined Saturday morning after admitting to elbow and forearm discomfort during and after Friday night's 10-out appearance against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Wellemeyer described himself as "gator-arming" the ball in his last two innings as he found it impossible to straighten his elbow. He said the condition had eased Saturday but that some of the tightness that radiated from the elbow remained.

Wellemeyer is scheduled to throw a side session Tuesday, but his next start could be in question if the condition does not improve significantly.

"If it doesn't improve, I'm telling them I can't pitch," he said. "I'm not going out there to be a hero."

Elbow irritation caused the team to postpone Wellemeyer's start three days before Friday's debacle. He needed 90 pitches while being tagged for eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. After the first inning, Wellemeyer said he found it impossible to rotate his wrist, leaving him incapable of throwing his slider.

"It wasn't very fair," manager Tony La Russa acknowledged.


Minus his favorite pair of sunglasses, La Russa reiterated his dissatisfaction Saturday with plate umpire Larry Vanover's ejection of reliever Russ Springer for hitting Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard with an eighth-inning pitch in Friday's 20-2 drubbing. La Russa was also ejected after voicing his displeasure to Vanover and crew chief Tim McClellan.

"The guy (Vanover) made a big mistake," said La Russa, who at one point threw, kicked and broke his shades. "It was not intentional in any way, shape or form. I had a big problem with that. I had a bigger problem when a guy throws behind our infielder and that's not intentional."

Vanover did not toss Phillies reliever Rudy Seanez when he threw behind shortstop Brendan Ryan in the bottom of the inning. Vanover's inaction drew an argument from Jose Oquendo that led to the Cardinals third-base coach's ejection.

Howard had homered twice before Springer plunked him on the right thigh with a fastball. Springer insisted there was no intent to hit Howard; La Russa said his pitcher was merely following orders to attack Howard inside after the Lafayette alum connected on an outside pitch and another over the plate's middle third.

"We have a reputation for protecting our players, but we don't instigate (stuff)," La Russa said. "If a guy's hitting good, you pitch him differently. That really (hacked) me off."

La Russa and Mozeliak planned to speak to supervisor of umpires Rich Rieker on Saturday in an attempt to soften or avoid any potential discipline for Springer, who could face a fine and a suspension for the incident.

"They may look at it and say, 'Wait a minute. It didn't look good, but we took the action,'" La Russa said, adding, "I didn't cuss anybody. I threw my glasses. I didn't cuss them about it. Games like this happen every day in baseball. There wasn't anything that went over the line (Friday night)."

Mulder sees progress with a new delivery

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — In a fit of frustration, Mark Mulder may have found his salvation.

The Cardinals' eternally rehabbing starter was so fed up with the inconsistencies of his delivery that he told trainer Keith Sanders three weeks ago that he'd had enough. Over. Done. He was "going to come back as a sidearm reliever," the lefty joked.

From aggravation came invention.

Introducing a delivery one tick above sidearm, Mulder started his fourth rehab assignment in the past three seasons with five shutout innings Saturday for Class AA Springfield. He not only threw freer and easier in his first time facing hitters with the new arm slot, he also threw consistently with considerably more velocity than he's had in other rehab starts. The new delivery is no longer a joke.

"It was night and day compared to what I was doing a month ago," Mulder said. "I feel myself getting closer, compared to where I've been. It's that release point, the way the ball comes out of my hand. Before it just wasn't there. Is it perfect? No. Not yet. But it's closer than it ever has been."

Mulder started the first game of a rehab double-dip. In the nightcap, righthander Matt Clement, making his third start of a rehab assignment, pitched five innings in what he called a "fine" outing. He allowed three runs on five hits and struck out three, but his velocity hung in the mid-80s. The mending major leaguers pitched the Cardinals to a sweep at Hammons Field against Northwest Arkansas, the Royals' affiliate.

In his five innings of a 4-0 shutout, Mulder threw 73 pitches, 56 of which were strikes. He held the Naturals to five hits, and eight of his 15 outs were groundouts. He described himself as "encouraged."

Mulder's return from two shoulder surgeries has been a prolonged tease for the team — and the pitcher. Since his first surgery in September 2006 and signing a two-year, $13 million deal, Mulder has made 13 rehab starts and three big-league starts. In 2006 and 2007, Mulder returned to the majors from rehab assignments only to find his shoulder uncomfortable and unable to perform.

"Definitely, I would hope this is different. It better be," Mulder said Saturday. "I feel closer. Things are definitely moving in the right direction. Before, yeah, they would get a little better. But then they'd go back to the old ways. I couldn't really break it."

Saturday was different from his first pitch.

In his final start of his rehab assignment earlier this year, Mulder pitched mostly in the 86- to 87-mph range. He topped out at 89 mph, getting two fastballs there. His first pitch Saturday was 89 mph. He threw a 92 mph fastball to the second batter he faced, and he sat consistently at 90 to 91 mph with his sinker throughout his five innings.

"I can finally make pitches, that's what it feels like," he said.

In late May, Mulder took two cortisone shots to the shoulder and one blow to his patience. Through two years of rehab he has been trying to get his arm up, extend it through the delivery, and the shoulder has resisted. His elbow would buckle and a hitch developed in his mechanics. After the shots, Mulder decided to try dropping his arm down, going "natural" and where the shoulder allowed.

Consider a delivery like the face of a clock with the pitcher's head at 12 o'clock: Mulder, a lefty, had been trying to throw at 1 o'clock. On Saturday, his delivery was close to 2 o'clock. The concerns he had about his control at that angle vanished quickly. He threw most pitches successfully with the exception of his splitfinger, which the new arm slot complicated. Mulder froze the only lefty he faced with a curveball for strike three and got him to bounce another curve to first base.

He splintered two bats with 87-mph cutters and got a first-pitch strike on 12 of 19 batters.

Mulder will throw a bullpen session in St. Louis early this week and then head back out for a second rehab start. He has 30 days to complete the rehab assignment, though he'd rather not need the whole month.

"If I were to need 30 days, things didn't get better from here," Mulder said. "I do feel better about it. I'm trying to get myself ready to go back and help this team."

Notes on Saturday’s Scorecard: Rasmus Time?

- It isn’t going to happen anytime soon, but top prospect Colby Rasmus is making a move atMemphis after a slow start in his transition to AAA ball. Rasmus entered Saturday night’s game at Round Rock with these splits for June: .340 / .426 / .574. The Cardinals are carrying 13 pitchers now, to keep the bullpen fresh, so there’s no room for Rasmus. in the major-league outfield.

But …

- Since May 16, Rick Ankiel has only 8 hits in 57 at-bats (.140) with a .210 OBP and a .386 slug. Though Ankiel did homer in consecutive games in Cincinnati earlier this week, the results haven’t been there on a consistent basis for a while. So it’s not crazy to suggest that Rasmus might be able to supply some offense at the CF position.

- Of course, the Cardinals could have kept Chris Duncan in Memphis, where he was batting only .160 upon the time of his recall. They could have used a committee at 1B, and plugged Rasmus into the outfield. Since last July 29, here are Duncan’s major-league splits in 272 plate appearances: .213 / .316 / .315. Other than Dave Duncan, does anyone of sound baseball aptitude see much value in those splits? But I’ll say this: Chris seems to be taking better cuts. Maybe he’s getting closer to finding it.

- Since last July 25, Kyle Lohse is 12-2 with a 4.06 ERA. The winning percentage (.857) is the best of any MLB starter during that time. Lohse likes the new Busch Stadium; in 12 starts here during his career, he’s 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA.

- Skip Schumaker is 11 for 59 against LHP this season (.186) including 0 for his last 12. But as usual, there are two sides to the story. And against RHP this season he’s .340 / .426 / .574. And since April 29, a span of 104 plate appearances, Schumaker is .381 / .423 / .557 vs. RHP.

- Has Brad Lidge finally recovered from Albert Pujols? Looks like it. Before Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS, Lidge had a 1.80 ERA and a 91.6 percent save rate for the Astros. After Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS, Lidge had a 4.54 ERA and a 77.3 percent save rate for the Astros. But since being traded to Philadelphia this past offseason, Lidge has an 0.93 ERA and 100 percent save rate. He’s back in form.

- This wasn’t a factor in Saturday’s game, but Cardinals’ relievers are near the bottom of the NL rankings (13th) in allowing inherited runners to score this season — 31 of 84, or 36.9 percent.

- I open this to the floor … after a strong rehab start by Mark Mulder on Saturday night for Class AA Springfield (five shutout innings) do we dare start to think that maybe, just maybe, he has a chance to resurface in a positive way for the Cardinals this season? Honestly, I’d written the guy off.

Carpenter to get second opinion

By Joe Strauss
Cards Carpenter
Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter stretches at spring training camp earlier this season in Jupiter, Fla.
(Chris Lee/P-D)

Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter will seek a second opinion from Birmingham, Ala., orthopedist Dr. James Andrews on Monday regarding his problematic right elbow, club and industry sources confirmed Saturday.

The club has not confirmed the findings of an examination performed Friday by team medical supervisor Dr. George Paletta, but a source familiar with Carpenter's situation said Paletta focused on a potential nerve condition that could result in additional surgery to move, or transpose, a nerve near Carpenter's surgically repaired elbow.

General manager John Mozeliak spoke Saturday to Carpenter's agent, Bob LaMonte, to determine the pitcher's choice of doctors. Carpenter opted for Andrews, one of several orthopedists who examined the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner before he submitted to ligament transplant surgery last July 25.

The club apparently suggested that Carpenter seek an outside opinion after Friday's examination, which ruled out structural damage to the elbow or to the transplanted ligament.

Four doctors, including a neurosurgeon, examined Carpenter in St. Louis on Friday. Results were "inconclusive" enough, according to Mozeliak, to warrant an additional consultation.

Lingering uncertainty about Carpenter's condition and treatment has caused the club to modify earlier projections that Carpenter could return to the rotation around the All-Star break.

"That's a tough break for him, a tough break for us," manager Tony La Russa said. "I've been saying based on the progress he'd been making that he would pitch before the first half was over. But the guy that's going to take it the hardest is Chris. Whatever it takes to get him 100 percent, he's got plenty of a great career left. I'm plenty disappointed for him and a little bit for us."

Yet the prospect of additional surgery is not enough for the club to scrub the righthander's potential return later this season.

"If this is something they determine does not need to be moved, then he likely can pitch through this," Mozeliak said. "If it does have to be moved, we estimate it as a two- to four-week setback for when he might be able to return."

If Andrews recommends a procedure, it will not be performed immediately. Carpenter and LaMonte are expected to meet with Mozeliak and the team's medical consultants before finalizing his decision and a time for potential surgery.

The suspected condition is common among pitchers who have required ligament transplant surgery. Transfer of the ulnar nerve is performed in a significant percentage of so-called Tommy John surgeries, but not in Carpenter's case.

The condition derailed what team medical and training staff considered a seamless progression. Carpenter threw with impressive velocity with only moderate effort during spring training and had continued to progress until experiencing what one club source called "a hiccup" last month at the team's spring training headquarters in Jupiter, Fla. Carpenter resumed after a brief shutdown, only to endure forearm discomfort within the last two weeks. After another brief hiatus, Carpenter experienced more discomfort following Wednesday's throw and returned to St. Louis to be seen by the medical team.

Cardinals relievers Russ Springer and Kyle McClellan had required nerve transfers following elbow ligament replacement.

Springer threw within two weeks. McClellan's more elaborate procedure followed a 2005 ligament replacement. He made only three starts for Rookie League Johnson City in 2006 before returning last season to work 40 games, all but one in relief.

Carpenter has made only one start since signing a five-year, $63.5 million contract extension in December 2006.

Fellow starting pitcher Mark Mulder and Matt Clement appeared in opposite ends of a Saturday doubleheader for Double-A Springfield, and Mozeliak confirmed that Clement is in the mix to start this week should Todd Wellemeyer be bumped with elbow discomfort. Mulder also helped his case with a strong showing in the first game.


A team that has made something out of virtually nothing all season just received a stifling punch to the gut. As if chasing the red-hot Chicago Cubs wasn’t difficult enough, now the Cardinals will have to soldier on without their superstar 1st baseman and ace of the staff. Albert Pujols (strained calf) and Adam Wainwright (sprained finger) are on the shelf for a minimum of 3 weeks each, and have subsequently created a noticeable limp in the Cardinals run for a Central Division title.

The offense provided by Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus has been surprisingly potent to this point, but production will certainly dip without the great Pujols in the lineup. One of the reasons for the successful starts of Ludwick and Ankiel is that they are essentially a product of Pujols’ talent. Sandwiching him in the the lineup, they see a barrage of more hittable pitches (namely fastballs) due to opposing hurlers’ fear of King Albert’s looming bat. It’s not to say that the Redbirds offense can’t get it done without the big first baseman, but the task will be exponentially more difficult. Someone needs to step up in Albert’s absence and put this team on their shoulders (don’t look to Chris Duncan), or the 3.5 game deficit in the standings could easily slip to double digits by the time Pujols is healthy.

Here’s something Cardinal fans never thought they would hear: This is Ryan Ludwick’s team now.

As for the starting rotation, it’s been an effective mess of patchwork arms strewn together over the last two months. Injuries to not only Wainwright, but Joel Pineiro and the surprise of the year, Todd Wellemeyer, have caused the Redbirds to trot a number of unproven youngsters to the mound. So far the glue has been Kyle Lohse. The former Philly castoff has been marvelously effective for the Cardinals, giving the team a chance to win nearly every time out. But it’s going to take a quick recovery by Wellemeyer, some consistency from Pineiro and the Dr. Jekyll version of Braden Looper to keep this team afloat while Wainwright mends his bird-flipping finger.

This will be Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan’s greatest challenge to date. Underarmed and curse with a shortage of big name bats, they will have to work some miracles until this team gets healthy. Fortunately they are blessed with a group of ball players that seem to never say die and give it their all every time they step on the field. The infusion of youth in this organization has a lot to do with that, and it’s a comforting feeling to know that even if the Cards do slide out of contention this season, their future still looks very bright.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Looper delivers well-timed gem

Righty shuts out Reds in face of mounting injuries for CardsCINCINNATI -- Amidst a road trip with many lows, Braden Looper offered up something spectacular.

He was as good as Reds starter Johnny Cueto was bad, as controlled as Cueto was wild and as poised as the Cincinnati youngster was rattled. All of that, and he didn't second-guess a single pitch he threw until the last batter he faced.

Injuries or not, the Cardinals, after Looper's first career shutout and a 10-0 throttling of the Reds on Wednesday night, are winners of four straight.

"Not only did our team need it, but the bullpen needed it," Looper said. "And for me personally, it's an achievement I can look back on and always have. Obviously, it's not a no-hitter, but I only gave up three hits in a nine-inning shutout. That's pretty good, I'd say."

Very good, actually.

Looper needed just 98 pitches -- a plateau Cueto reached in the fifth inning -- to complete his gem. He struck out four, walked none and retired the first 11 and final 11 batters he faced.

"He's pitched really good games in his two years [as a starter], but that's as well as he's pitched against that lineup in this ballpark," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He made so many good pitches. It was very impressive. He deserves a ton of credit."

Looper's performance comes one night after slugger Albert Pujols aggravated a strained left calf and four nights after starting pitcher Adam Wainwright sprained his right middle finger. Both were sent to the 15-day disabled list, dealing major blows to the Cardinals.

"It's important for each guy to do [his] part," Looper said. "You can't try to do more and be something you're not. You've just got to do your part, go out there and lay it on the line. Whatever happens, happens. It's not like we're going to fold up shop because Albert and [Wainwright] aren't here."

And so far, there's been no reason to. St. Louis got a stellar performance from Triple-A Memphis callup Mitchell Boggs in a convincing victory on Tuesday. Through two games at homer-happy Great American Ball Park, the Cardinals have held the Reds to just two runs.

Offensively, Ryan Ludwick has homered himself out of a mini-slump that's plagued him throughout the road trip. Former Reds player Jason LaRue has hit his first home run of the season.

Rick Ankiel has shown no signs of rust since returning from a five-game absence in which he was nursing an infection in his right knee. Even Chris Duncan, who was optioned to Triple-A Memphis on May 30 to iron out struggles at the plate, is hitting.

"We've got some guys, who are the core of the club, who aren't participating in Albert and Wainwright, but the game still counts," La Russa said. "The guys are still playing and we have a chance to compete."

Looper (8-5) went to his fastball more often than not. Such could be a dangerous strategy in Cincinnati against a lineup with power hitters like Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, but Looper's command kept the ball down in the zone and the Reds off the basepaths.

"I slowed everything down -- my whole pace," Looper said. "It's basically helped me get on top of the ball better and more consistently. To be honest with you, when [Javier] Valentin [the last batter in the ninth] walked up -- I know he's a good hitter -- was the first time in the game that I was second-guessing my pitch selection."

Looper didn't allow a hit until Griffey's two-out double in the fourth. He allowed two more hits in the sixth.

Ankiel keyed a monster first inning for St. Louis when he hit a three-run home run. It's Ankiel's second homer in as many games since returning to the lineup on Tuesday.

Cueto (5-6) struggled mightly in the loss, lasting just five innings and putting up a career-high eight walks. Three of the five Cardinals runners who scored in the first inning reached on walks.

St. Louis made it 5-0 in the first when LaRue's two-run home run plated Troy Glaus three batters later.

Ludwick made it 6-0 with an RBI double in the fourth and 7-0 with a solo home run off Danny Herrera in the seventh. It was Ludwick's second home run of the series and third in four games.

The Cardinals scored three more runs in the eighth. LaRue scored on Looper's double, Looper scored on a sacrifice and Brendan Ryan scored from second when Jay Bruce muffed Ludwick's fly ball to right.

"Looper was unbelievable," Ludwick said. "We had a great rhythm working. We kept coming in inning after inning ready to hit. We were fortunate to get some runs for [Looper] early, and that's all he needed. I can't give him enough credit."