Game Observations – Friday, April 15

Brian Walton's daily column on the game and much, much more…

The St. Louis Cardinals made their first trip into Milwaukee this season as they faced the Brewers Friday night at Miller Park, winning 3-0. Jeff Suppan opposed Ben Sheets, two fast-working, efficient pitchers. Both pitched very well, but the difference was Sheets' two throwing errors in the fifth inning. Suppan's five-hitter was a welcome relief for a Cardinals team that needed a lift. Albert Pujols also homered.

Sheets not shorted
Sheets had just agreed to terms on a four-year, $38.5 million contract, which is the largest in Brewers' team history. Sheets would not have been free-agent eligible until 2006.

Edmonds milestone
Per Lee Sinins of Baseball Encyclopedia fame, Jim Edmonds passed Vinny Castilla, stayed ahead of Jeff Kent and tied David Justice for 99th place on the all time home run list, with 305.

Our beer can whip yours
In 2004, the Cardinals posted a 9-8 record against Milwaukee, including a 4-3 mark at Miller Park. The Cardinals hold a 63-43 all-time edge against the Brewers.

Nunez to gut it out
Back up middle infielder Abraham Nunez cracked a rib on his left side during the ninth inning on Wednesday night in a collision at second base with Cincinnati's Ryan Freel. Nunez will not go onto the disabled list and is instead able to play if he can tolerate the pain.

Relievers on their game
Cardinals relief pitchers did not allow a run in 6-2/3 innings of work during the two games against Cincinnati. In aggregate, they gave up just five hits while striking out six and walking only one.

Suppan against Milwaukee
Jeff Suppan came into Friday's game with a career 2-0 record and a 2.75 ERA at Miller Park. However, he went 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two starts vs. the Brewers last season. His last start at Miller was last April 25, when he was the winning pitcher in a 5-2 Cards victory. In that game, Suppan threw 7-2/3 innings, allowing just one earned run.

The lineup
Eckstein, Walker, Pujols, Rolen, Cedeno, Sanders, Grudzielanek, Molina plus Suppan. Jim Edmonds was a late scratch due to a case of the flu. 38-year-old Larry Walker moved over to center field. Other than a brief appearance in center during one game last season after joining St. Louis, Walker last played in centerfield in 1998 for three games. Roger Cedeno came in with a career mark of 9-for-23, .391 against Sheets.

On to the game…

Cards first - start snuffed
Despite the shift being put on against him, Walker singled on a full count fastball with one out in the first. But, Pujols and Rolen each flew out.

Brewers first - Overbay left dry
Lyle Overbay hit a gapper to right center for a two-out double in the home first, but Carlos Lee was retired on one pitch via a grounder to Eckstein.

Brewers second – Rolen not slumping in the field
Geoff Jenkins dropped in a broken bat single to lead off the second and Jeff Cirillo singled between Pujols and Grudz. Rolen helped clean up the mess as he started a nifty double play by tagging Jenkins, then throwing out the batter, Chad Moeller. Pujols helped with a sweep tag as the throw was high. Suppan pitched around J.J. Hardy to get Sheets for the third out..

Cards third – Eck out
After seven Sheets-driven outs in a row, Eckstein singled with two out. But, he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double against Brewer rightfielder Jenkins. With two outs and Sheets bringing it on the mound, it was a decent chance to take.

Brewers third – Clark barred
After fouling off four straight pitches, Brady Clark singled on the ninth pitch of his at-bat, while leading off. However, Molina easily nailed him trying to steal second. It wasn't even close.

Cards fourth – Albert parks one
Just as the Brewers broadcasters were pointing out that a rare Pujols strikeout last season was #241 for Sheets last year, a Brewer team record, Albert slammed an outside breaking ball out to right for the first run of the night. It was Pujols' second long fly of the year. Cards 1-0.

Cards fifth – Sheets offers gifts
Leading off, Sanders hit a dribbler to Sheets, who misfired on his throw to first. Sanders easily took second. Grudz hit a shot that ate up Overbay at first. Sanders scored and Grudz took second on the throw. Molina did a nice job moving Grudz over. La Russa called a squeeze bunt. Suppan executed perfectly as neither Sheets nor catcher Chad Moeller went after the bunt. Once Sheets got it, his throw toward first was his second error of the inning. Suppan took second. The bottom of the order came through nicely, helped by the shaky defense. Cards 3-0.

Cards sixth - Pujols streak ends at 108
With out one in the sixth, Sheets threw a high change-up up near Pujols' eyes. Albert swung and missed for strike three for his first strikeout of the year, including 75 spring training plate appearances and 33 more during the regular season. After Roger Cedeno made the final out of the inning, he was replaced by So Taguchi. He took over in center as Walker went back to his normal right field position.

Brewers sixth – Soupy sailing
Suppan had retired the previous eight in a row before Brady Clark singled to start the inning. However, he was erased in a double play. The last inning Suppan faced more than three hitters was back in the second inning.

Brewers seventh – Grudz shows the glove
Grudz made a highlight reel catch against Jenkins with one out in the seventh. He made a full-speed, diving extension with his back to the plate in short right field to rob Jenkins. Tony La Russa applauded twice in the dugout.

Cards eighth – Eck folds Sheets
Eckstein drew a walk with one out in the eighth. Ball four was Sheets' 118th and final pitch of the night. He was replaced by former Cardinals closer Ricky Botallico. Walker reached on a fielders' choice grounder and got down the line quickly in breaking up the double play. Botallico then did the unthinkable, fanning the Great Pujols for the second consecutive at-bat.

Brewers eighth – Eck's legs and glove
Eckstein made a nice play to end the inning as he ran full-speed, catching Bill Hall's foul just as he hit the tarp on the left field perimeter to the stands.

Brewers ninth – Lights are out
When Junior Spivey walked with one out in the ninth, Suppan left the game, despite having allowed just five hits. Jason Isringhausen got the final two outs, including fanning Carlos Lee to end it in two hours, thirteen minutes. It was Suppan's first win and Izzy's third save of the season.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Saturday at Milwaukee: Chris Carpenter vs. Doug Davis 1:05 pm WB11
Sunday at Milwaukee: Jason Marquis vs. Victor Santos 1:05 pm WB11
Monday at Pittsburgh: Mark Mulder vs. Dave Williams 7:05 pm FSN Midwest
Tuesday at Pittsburgh: Matt Morris vs. Josh Fogg 7:05 pm FSN Midwest

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.


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