I couldn't put my finger on it until seeing two examples today, but now I know why I don't think Hector Luna will make the team this season. The reason is that he is simply not ready maturity-wise. Before the game, in practice, Luna struggled with a hard-hit ball at short and as he came in, slammed his glove to the grass. Then, he waived off hitting coach Hal McRae when it was his turn to hit into the screen before his turn at batting practice. McRae bellowed out, "You have to." Jose Oquendo, standing nearby, passed on the message in Spanish and Luna joined in. Maybe just two small incidents, but it told me that Mr. Luna still has some growing up to do. Luna went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and an error during the game Friday.
There were smiles and hugs and backslaps when former Cardinals hitting coach Mitchell Page emerged from the Nationals in dugout in full uniform. Page, now minor league hitting coordinator for Washington, left the Cardinals after the World Series to combat his alcohol abuse. The first to spot Page was Albert Pujols, who hugged him warmly. Page seemed far more relaxed and jovial than I had ever seen him. It was a welcome sight.
The Crack of the Bat
I was standing with my back to by the batting cage chatting with Roger Cedeno when I heard an odd, crisp crack of the bat that stood out from the others. Sure enough, Albert Pujols had stepped in. Others have said it before, but it is absolutely true. The sound is different with Pujols. He had little to say other than his foot was "ok". I watched him carefully for some time and saw no sign of a limp.
To show how committed Pujols is, even after the others were almost done hitting, he called coach Joe Pettini in from the outfield to give him extra hitting time against the screen. I remain genuinely impressed with Pujols' commitment to the game. More on that when I post my exclusive interview with hitting coach Hal McRae later tonight.
I asked catcher Cody McKay about his game-ending pickoff play Thursday, telling him that no one in the press box wanted extra innings. He agreed, while commenting that pitcher Carmen Cali was having trouble with location. "I was having to get balls up here and down there (gestures high and low). I hoped he (Astro Trenidad Hubbard) would be held to a single, but then he took off. Fortunately, I was able to make the throw."
Party Line on Ankiel or Poison Pill?
A team official made it clear if another team were to claim Ankiel off waivers hoping to rehabilitate him as a pitcher, that he would just retire. Informally, however, there is some scuttlebutt that the team may try to redo his contract with backloaded money to make it more difficult to any other team to claim him. Sort of a poison pill, perhaps.
Who is Who?
With their blue and red hued uniforms, it was difficult to distinguish the difference between the Cardinals and Nationals…until play began, that is…
On to the game…
Only Three Regulars
As reported yesterday, the Cards only brought along three regulars on the road trip. The lineup: Eckstein, Taguchi (cf), Pujols, Gall (lf), Cedeno (rf), Grudzielanek, Seabol (3b), Diaz and Marquis.
Shortstop David Eckstein led off the game as we hope he will do all season, when he drew a walk and sprinted down to first base. He eventually scored on an Albert Pujols single. Eckstein also rapped an RBI single in the third.
Halley's Comet Sighting
In between, Eck muscled up. He and So Taguchi led off the second with consecutive home runs. Eck's went deep to left, while So's was a line drive that just cleared the fence, also to left. Both were aided by the wind, let's face it, but they still counted. Zach Day was the Nats hurler, who exited after having allowed six runs in two innings. We'll never see that back-to-back Eckstein and Taguchi occurrence again.
Gall Shaky in the First
Left fielder John Gall bobbled a ball hit hard into the corner by Jamie Carroll in the first inning. He also had a bit of trouble making catches on balls hit right at him by Jeffrey Hammonds and Brendan Harris. All of that was in the first inning! In all fairness, the wind was blowing strongly in his face. Gall went 0-for-3 with a run scored during the game.
Marquis Up and Down
Jason Marquis started slowly, allowing three hits, including a double, a walk and a fielding error, missing the relay on a 3-6-1 double play. However, only two runs scored in that initial inning. Marquis came back strong in the second, ending the frame with a wicked breaking ball that buckled Jamie Carroll's knees. He ended up walking four and surrendering five hits in 2-2/3 innings. Two of his three runs allowed were earned.
Pinch-hitter and non-roster invitee Brandon Berger went deep in the fifth, his long fly just clearing the left field wall (again). The three-run homer made the score 10-3. In the seventh, his line shot to center went to the warning track. Berger came into the game 2-for-5 on the spring. On a team with no power threat off the bench, could Berger be this year's Pujols or at least Cody McKay?
Mahoney Muscles Up
Backup catcher competitor Mike Mahoney belted a two-run homer out to (you guessed it) left field in the ninth inning off Nats' prospect Micah Bowie. That created the final margin of 12-3.
Playing the entire game at third base, Scott Seabol went 3-for-5 with two runs scored.
The relief corps did a nice job, allowing no runs in the final 6-1/3 innings. None of the five hurlers who followed Marquis surrendered more than a single hit each. They issued no walks and four of the five had at least one strikeout. Julian Tavarez fanned three of the five he faced. Kevin Jarvis spun two innings. Randy Flores' only blemish was a hit batter. Nerio Rodriguez and Al Reyes finished up.
Coming later are exclusive interviews with Hal McRae, Red Schoendienst and George Kissell plus comments from youngster Reid Gorecki and much more!
Brian Walton can be reached at email@example.com.