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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.

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