Cardinals Major League Notebook: 09/28/11

The Cardinals moved into a tie with Atlanta after overcoming a five-run deficit vs. Houston Tuesday night.



Staff ace Chris Carpenter has only 10 wins this year because he has 14 no-decisions, mainly because of a lack of support. But he gladly would settle for an 11-win season.

Carpenter will pitch the "win and you're in" (at least to a wild-card playoff) on Wednesday night when he starts the regular-season finale at Houston. The Cardinals, 10 1/2 games out of the wild-card spot on Aug. 25, finally have caught up with Atlanta with one game to play, on the strength of 22 wins in 31 games.

The Cardinals hadn't been at the top of any standing in the National League since they had a half-game lead in the Central Division on July 26. And it didn't seem as if it would happen Tuesday night either as right-hander Jake Westbrook had little and the Astros raced to a 5-0 lead.

But the Cardinals' depth, both in their lineup and in their bullpen, paid off in a 13-6 victory that raised the Cardinals' record to 89-72.

All the news wasn't good. Besides shortstop Rafael Furcal being out with a strained left hamstring suffered on Monday, left fielder Matt Holliday had a recurrence of the tendon problem in his right palm.

Here is where the depth came in.

Shortstop Nick Punto hadn't had a four-hit game in more than four years. But he had a double, two singles and his first home run of the season in place of Furcal.

When Holliday went out, Allen Craig stepped in. Craig tied the game at 6-6 with a two-out double in a four-run seventh. Then he hit a three-run homer with two out in the eighth.

Pinch hitter Ryan Theriot also knocked in two runs off the bench. For the second time in a week, Theriot delivered an extra-base hit off the bench to drive in the go-ahead runs. Theriot tripled in the seventh, batting for second baseman Skip Schumaker.

But Schumaker might have had the game's biggest hit, a three-run double to highlight a five-run fourth inning. Those were his first runs batted in since Aug. 28 and his first extra-base hit since Aug. 22.

And then there was reliever Eduardo Sanchez, who hadn't pitched since June 12 because of shoulder problems. With the Cardinals trailing 6-5, Sanchez entered to strike out the first two hitters he faced and retired four in a row to gain his third victory.

"That was exciting," said manager Tony La Russa. "And upsetting a little bit. We missed him."

The Cardinals' bullpen was key after Westbrook lasted just 2 1/3 innings. Right-hander Mitchell Boggs got out of the third inning with no further damage after the Astros had taken a 5-0 lead. Left-hander Marc Rzepzynski got into trouble when he walked two men in the fifth inning, but he limited the damage by inducing a double play with the bases loaded.

Sanchez, Octavio Dotel, Fernando Salas and Edwin Jackson, a starter who finished up, all threw quality relief as the bullpen had to throw 102 pitches.

The most surprising aspect of the night? The Cardinals scored 13 runs and none was driven by any of the Big Three, first baseman Albert Pujols, right fielder Lance Berkman and Holliday. Berkman, however, did have three hits.



Manager Tony La Russa declined to discuss rumors that either he was retiring or going to Chicago to work again for White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, for whom he managed in the 1980s. "We're not going to be distracted because you're not getting me to answer anything except about this series here (in Houston)," La Russa said. "I have an issue with me answering any speculation because it's exactly the opposite of what the club should be getting from a guy who is making out the lineup." General manager John Mozeliak said, "As soon as the season ends we'll sit down, like we do every year. Right now, it wouldn't make a lot of sense, with what this team is facing in the next 24-48 hours and hopefully beyond. I don't think any of us want to get ahead of ourselves." La Russa is approaching the end of his 16th season as Cardinals manager. He has a mutual option for next year.

INF Ryan Theriot, who knocked in the game-winning runs with a two-run triple, has delivered two extra-base hits, worth four runs, in two late inning pinch-hit at-bats in the last week. "It's the kind of spot you relish as a competitor," said Theriot. "It's one of those backyard whiffle ball situations."

LF Matt Holliday likely will be lost for a few days again. Holliday was out for more than a week with a tendon problem in his right palm, and he hurt himself on Tuesday and had to come out in the third inning. Manager Tony La Russa said he suspected something was wrong when Holliday didn't hit with the regulars before the game. La Russa said it wasn't smart to continue to play Holliday once the Cardinals' star experienced difficulty in the game. "Not only did it bother him swinging, it bothered him throwing," said La Russa. The injury apparently hadn't bothered Holliday's throwing until Tuesday.

RF Lance Berkman is hitting .444 with five homers and 14 RBI over 10 games against Houston, his former team. Berkman was 3-for-4 Tuesday to jump over .300 at .302. He was hitting .281 on Sept. 4.

RHP Jake Westbrook suffered his earliest knockout of the season, giving up five runs and seven hits in 2 1/3 innings. "Jake struggled," said manager Tony La Russa. "Everything was over the middle of the plate. The harder he tried to get it down, the more he centered it."

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 - Runs the Cardinals scored after there were two out and nobody on in the seventh and eighth innings.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Now we can control our destiny. If we win tomorrow, we know we're at least in a playoff game."

- SS Nick Punto on the Cardinals being tied for the wild-card lead.




LF Matt Holliday (strained tendon in right palm) re-injured his hand Sept. 27 and is expected to be out at least a few days.

SS Rafael Furcal (strained left hamstring) left the Sept. 26 game, didn't play Sept. 27 and won't be available Sept. 28.

RHP Lance Lynn (strained left oblique) went on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 10 and was transferred to the 60-day DL on Sept. 2.

RHP Adam Wainwright (Tommy John surgery in February 2011) went on the 60-day disabled list March 25. He will miss the entire 2011 season. Wainwright was getting closer to throwing a full-strength bullpen session in September, but he will not be allowed to throw his signature curveball until next year.


Wed., Sept. 28 vs. ASTROS: Chris Carpenter (10-9, 3.59) vs. Brett Myers (7-13, 4.31) 7:05 p.m. CDT (FOX Sports Midwest, KMOX Radio and Cardinals Radio Network).

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