Walton's Game Observations – Monday, April 18

Brian Walton's daily column on the game and much, much more… Cards 11, Pirates 1.

The first-place St. Louis Cardinals began their road series against Pittsburgh as they defeated the Pirates 11-1 Monday night in a nearly-empty PNC Park. Mark Mulder took on Dave Williams.

Mulder allowed just two hits in eight innings in his most masterful Cardinals performance by far. He walked three, fanned two and the run allowed was unearned. By my count, Mulder induced 13 ground ball outs.

The offense broke open a tight 2-1 game with a nine-spot in the ninth inning. Yadier Molina tripled his hit output for the season, going 3-for-5. So Taguchi also went 3-for-5 with a triple and three RBI.

Williams hard as wood for Birds
In limited action against the Cards, Williams came into the game with a 1.93 ERA, allowing just a .153 average against the Cardinals in two starts and 14 innings of work. That is less than half his career ERA mark.

First of many
The Cardinals and Pirates will play 16 games this season. Last season, St. Louis was 12-5 against Pittsburgh including a 7-3 mark at PNC Park. Overall, the Cards own a 25-9 bulge at PNC.

Familiar home cooking coming
The Cardinals will return home on Wednesday for a three-team, eight-game homestand beginning with the Chicago Cubs. They will be followed by the first two road opponents from earlier this season, Houston and Milwaukee.

Cubs trouble expected later
After the two-game series this week, the Cardinals and Cubs do not play again until after the All-Star break. They play three in July, four in August and six in September. Last year, the two teams complained about seeing each other so frequently early in the season. This year, the schedule-maker just delayed what will be the same situation, exacerbated by the heat of summer and the impending end of season. Nice job, schedule-makers.

Mulder streak not admirable
Coming into Monday night, Mulder had allowed 26 hits and 14 earned runs in his last 17 innings, including his final spring appearance April 3 against Springfield.

The lineup
Eckstein, Grudzielanek, Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, Sanders, Taguchi (right), Molina plus Marquis. Larry Walker was given the night off against the lefty Williams. It was the second day off in the last three for the slumping rightfielder, currently hitting .206.

On to the game…

Cards first – Grudz milestone
Grudz hit a gapper deep into left center for a one-out double. In game #11, it was his first extra-base hit of the season. Neither Pujols nor Rolen could move him up or in, though.

Cards second – Lead taken, but run left on table
Edmonds led off the second with a home run to right that just cleared the fence. Reggie Sanders followed with a bloop single and scored on an RBI triple by So Taguchi. It was his third RBI and only the second triple for the team this season. Molina was presented with an RBI opportunity on a silver platter, but popped out to second. Wonder why he wasn't asked to bunt? Mulder and Eckstein failed to get the run in, also, but at least the latter extended the inning by getting hit by a pitch on the ankle. Grudz didn't get the two-out hit either, as he fanned, but still, the lead was secured. Cards 2-0.

Pirates fourth – Mulder perfect game lost
With two out, Jason Bay worked a walk. It was the Pirates' first baserunner after Mulder had retired eleven consecutive batters to start the game. Bay went nowhere.

Cards fifth – Leadoff walk wasted
Eckstein walked to lead off the inning. More difficult for Eck to steal with a lefty on the mound. Grudz hit a ball that Bay pulled down just in front of the wall. Wish he'd just single somewhere. Pujols and Rolen again were unable to do anything, as they're 0-for-6 so far on the evening.

Pirates fifth – Molina error costs a run
Daryle Ward walked to lead off. Freddy Sanchez broke up the no-hitter with a single that shot under Rolen's glove. On a fielders choice that could have been a double play, Grudz' high throw made Albert jump for the ball. He came down limping. On a fly ball for the second out, Sanders' perfect throw home would have easily nailed Ward at the plate. However, Molina lost the ball even though he had plenty of time to set himself and make the tag. Are his offensive troubles starting to affect his defense, too? Obviously, the run is unearned. Cards 2-1.

Cards sixth – Another homer attempt
Sanders scraped some paint off the left field wall, as he blasted a ball with one out. Craig Wilson caught the ball up against the green. So legged out an infield single with two out. After swinging for the fences in the fourth, this time Molina hit a one-hop single to right. That's more like it. But, Mulder fanned for the third out.

Pirates sixth – Got him this time
Mulder's third walk was another lead off job, this time to Matt Lawton. With two outs, Craig Wilson doubled to left. The Pirates took a chance and it backfired. The relay from Sanders to Rolen to Molina enabled Yadi to make the tag on Lawton, who was tagged at home for the third out.

Cards ninth – Dam breaks
Molina singled with one out against Brian Meadows. The dugout was all smiles as Molina chugged home on a double by Walker that got past Wilson. Walker was pinch-hitting for Mulder. Eckstein singled past third, scoring Walker. Eckstein singled to right, putting runners on the corner. A wild pitch scored another run. Pujols was walked intentionally and Rolen was also given a free pass to load them up. With Ryan Vogelsong in, Edmonds drew a full-count walk to score another. A So Taguchi single scored two more. Molina squirted a ball past third to reload the bases. The team batted around. Roger Cedeno got in the fun as his pinch hit double bounded off the rightfield wall to clear the bases. Pinch-hitter Abraham Nunez finally made the third out. Cards 11-1.

Pirates ninth – JJ makes a good impression
Jim Journell made his 2005 debut by pitching the ninth. He allowed a walk to Jason Bay and induced a double play to end the game.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Tuesday at Pittsburgh: Matt Morris vs. Josh Fogg 7:05 pm FSN Midwest
Wednesday vs. Cubs: Jeff Suppan vs. Carlos Zambrano (probable) 6:10pm FSN Midwest and ESPN2
Thursday vs. Cubs: Chris Carpenter vs. Ryan Dempster (probable) 12:10pm FSN Midwest and ESPN

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

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