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Friday, June 27, 2008

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.

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