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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wellemeyer, Cards bounce back

Starter shakes off rough first two innings to earn win
ST. LOUIS -- What looked like a favor for the Cardinals bullpen, at the expense of Todd Wellemeyer, turned into something very different on Saturday. By leaving Wellemeyer in after a rugged first two innings, it turns out that manager Tony La Russa actually did his starter a solid.

Wellemeyer righted the ship after the second, lasting 6 1/3 innings for a 6-5 Cardinals win over the Padres, Wellemeyer's first win since he sustained an elbow injury on June 5. He didn't permit another tally from the third until he was removed in the seventh, retiring 14 of the final 16 batters he faced.

That effort, combined with an eventful but ultimately successful showing by the bullpen, allowed Albert Pujols and the Cardinals offense to climb out of a 5-0 hole. St. Louis has won four straight and remains one game ahead of Milwaukee for the National League Wild Card lead.

"Down five runs in the first two innings is tough, but we've got a lot of outs left," Pujols said. "I think in the third inning, Todd really found himself out there and felt comfortable and started making some pitches, and gave us an opportunity to come back in the game and win."

Pujols had the game's two biggest hits -- a three-run double in the fifth that got St. Louis on the board, and an RBI infield single in the sixth that put the Redbirds ahead for the first time. But without Wellemeyer's recovery, and the bullpen's high-wire act, Pujols' efforts would have come in a loss.

Wellemeyer was drilled for five runs in the first two innings as he struggled mightily with his location. He left fastballs up, fell behind in counts and couldn't get swinging strikes with his slider.

"I wish I could have taken back those first two innings, because I figured it out after that," Wellemeyer said. "I wasn't getting through the pitches, leaving them up."

He knew, though, that whether he figured it out or not, he would be sticking around for a while. A night after Braden Looper lasted three-plus innings, Wellemeyer was going to have to soak up some innings. Even if the game got out of hand, it was Wellemeyer's job to take one for the team.

So he made the most of it.

"I made a huge adjustment," he said. "Last game, I was going too hard and then I had to back it down a little bit in Pittsburgh. This time, I went out there thinking, 'Nice and easy, hit my spots.' And it didn't really go that way the first two innings, so then I said, 'You know what? Here we go. Here it is, right here.' And that helped me. That got me right on track."

Even in the third and fourth, Wellemeyer was still yielding some hard contact. By about the fifth, though, he truly started settling in. He ended the sixth by striking out Nick Hundley on a slider, the pitch that has been inconsistent, at best, since his injury.

"The third inning through the seventh, [my slider] felt great," Wellemeyer said. "I was keeping all my fastballs down at the knees, in and out. And then you throw that slider. It helps out a ton if you keep the ball down."

Randy Wolf worked around three Cardinals singles in the first, a walk and a hit batter in the third and a leadoff double in the fourth, all the while keeping a shutout bid intact. In the fifth, though, he found himself in a pickle he couldn't escape -- bases loaded, one out, Pujols at the plate.

Pujols was first-pitch swinging, and he smoked a deep liner to center field to make it a 5-3 game. Rick Ankiel's RBI single later in the frame pulled the Cards to within a run. Skip Schumaker drove in a run with a groundout in the sixth to tie the game. Two batters later, Pujols poked a single deep in the hole at shortstop, and the Cardinals led.

The RBIs were Pujols' first since July 12, and with four runs driven in, he surpassed his previous total for the entire month of July. He hadn't had more than one RBI in a game since June 30, and had gone since April 14 since he had more than two.

"Albert's having a great year," manager La Russa said. "You just watch what he gets to hit every day and you'll understand why he gets his base hits but some of the other production drops off."

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