Walton's Game Observations – Wednesday, April 20

Carlos Zambrano led the Cubs over the Cardinals, 3-1.

The first-place St. Louis Cardinals began their short two-game home series against Chicago Cubs late due to rain Wednesday night. But, after a ninety minute delay, they fell to the Cubs 3-1 at Busch Stadium in front of a national ESPN2 television audience.

Jeff Suppan opposed Carlos Zambrano on the mound. Suppan kept his team in the game, but Zambrano was masterful, pitching a five-hit victory one out short of a complete-game. He added an RBI triple. Albert Pujols hit a solo homer for the only Redbird tally. The Cards had the tying run at the plate as the game ended. La Troy Hawkins got the save.

Mr. Happy Crack
According to a press release, Mr. Happy Crack is going to throw out the first pitch on Friday night against the Astros. Word is that Mr. Steroid was unavailable. Seriously, Cardinals Care will get a cut of all Crack sales during the game… Ok, I give up. Read it yourself. Mr. Happy Crack

ESPN3 in the house
Gary Thorne, former Cub and Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone and former Mets general manager Dave Phillips were in the booth for ESPN.

Phillips sucking up big time
"The knowledge was oozing out of his pores." This was Phillips' first inning quote about Tony La Russa.

Home cooking coming
This game begins a stretch in which the Cardinals will play 16 of their next 22 at Busch Stadium. Coming into Wednesday's game, the Cards are 2-3 at home after winning 65% of their home games last season (53 of 81).

No, you first
Thorne pointed out that the Cardinals' when leading off an inning are hitting just .168. They were 1-for-9 Wednesday night. Difficult to win that way.

Cubs-Cards series results
Overall in 2004, the Cardinals won the season series between the teams, 11 games to eight. They also hold a three-year edge of 32 wins and 21 losses versus the Cubs. At Busch, the Cards won six of ten last year and 31 of forty over the last five years.

Believe it or not
The 5-0 road trip that the Cardinals just completed is their first perfect road trip of four or more games in the last 43 years.

Relievers hot
Coming into Wednesday, Cardinals relief pitchers had not allowed a run in 14-2/3 innings over the last seven games. In the process, they lowered the bullpen ERA to a season-low 3.85. During that stretch, the relievers have given up just six hits, while striking out 11 and walking four.

Simba's shot
Former Cardinal and current San Diego Padres scout Ted Simmons turned the Countdown Clock Wednesday night to 76 home games remaining. Simmons batted .298 with 172 home runs and 929 RBI for the Cardinals from 1968-80. The eight-time All-Star also played for Milwaukee and ended his career with Atlanta in 1988.

Wednesday's lineup
Eckstein, Walker, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Mabry (lf), Nunez (2b), Diaz, Suppan. Three starters were benched for the night – Sanders, Grudzielanek and Molina. Nunez earned another day in the lineup after his 4-for-4 plus a walk in Pittsburgh Tuesday night.

Rain, rain go away
Both teams got batting practice in before the tarp came on the field. The rain delay was first sixty, then extended to ninety minutes.

Rain, rain come today
During the delay, KMOX replayed the audio of the August, 1968 unveiling of the bronze statue of Stan the Man. Says the inscription, "Here stands baseball's warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect prince." The Great Musial was brought to tears at the end of his rousing speech. What a treat!

On to the game…

Cubs first – Can we back up and start over?
With one out, Neifi Perez' fly ball was apparently lost in the lights by backup left fielder Mabry. It clunked off his glove. Derrek Lee's sharply-hit grounder proved to be hard to handle by backup second baseman Nunez, but he recovered to get the force at second. Lee stole second when backup catcher Diaz' throw arrived in time, but it was knocked out of backup second baseman Nunez' glove by the slide. Aramis Ramirez drew a walk. Jeromy Burnitz collected an RBI single to right on a 1-2 count. Small consolation, but the run was unearned. Cubs 1-0.

Cubs second – More shaky play
Barrett, the #8 hitter, singled past Rolen with one out. After failing to bunt twice, Zambrano shot the ball past Edmonds in left center and it rolled to the wall. It was surprising that Edmonds was not able to cut the ball off. The throw in got past Rolen, but Suppan was backing him up. Barrett scored easily. Corey Patterson then flew out to short right center. While Edmonds' throw was off line, the threat was enough to hold Zambrano at third. Eckstein barely threw out Perez at first to end it. Suppan has thrown 41 pitches already. Cubs 2-0.

Cards second – Cubs err, too
Edmonds complained to home plate umpire Bruce Froemming about his strike zone while fanning on three pitches. Rolen flew out to deep left center. John Mabry was the beneficiary of a Nomar Garciaparra throwing error and took second as the ball eluded capture. Nunez drew a walk, but Diaz ground out.

Cubs third – Nomar down and out
Lee hit a ground rule double to lead off the inning. A fan reached over the rail and snared the ball. Burnitz singled to center to put runners on the corners with one out. Nomar ground into a 5-4-3, but the damage was far worse than two outs as he fell to the ground with an apparently serious groin injury, later called a muscle tear. Jerry Hairston came into the game to play second, as Perez moved over to short.

Cards third – RISP lost
Eckstein singled off a diving Ramirez at third with one out. Walker moved him over to second. But, Albert fanned for only the fourth time all season.

Cubs fourth - Defense bad and good
Todd Hollandsworth singled to lead off. Mabry hauled in Barrett's shot on the warning track. On a Zambrano bunt, backup catcher Diaz made a bad play by throwing to second instead of getting the runner easily at first. However, his mates bailed him out as Albert started and finished a 3-6-3 double play on a Patterson shot.

Cubs fifth – Drip, drip
Lee coaxed out a one walk out of Suppan and took second on a wild pitch. He was the Cubs' tenth baserunner on the night and he scored on Aramis Ramirez double. Cubs 3-0.

Cubs sixth – More baserunners
Mabry made a nice running catch on a ball tailing away from him off the bat of Hollandsworth to collect the first out of the inning. Barrett singled, but Zambrano popped out trying to bunt and Patterson ground out into a fielders choice for the third out.

Cards sixth – Cards show life
Eckstein singled leading off the inning, but was easily thrown on the next pitch trying to steal on a hit-and-run when Walker waved feebly at the ball. Eckstein was just the fourth Cardinals baserunner of the night (two hits, a walk and an error). The aborted hit-and-run looked especially bad as Pujols drilled a home run to left. Edmonds singled next. An over-anxious Rolen popped out to the short right on the first pitch, where Burnitz and the second baseman Hairston collided, but Burnitz held on. Cubs 3-1.

Cubs seventh – Flores escapes jam
Seven-time Gold Glove winner Walker made a very nice running catch going straight back on a Perez liner to deep right for the first out. Lee stroked a gapper to left center for an easy double. He's reached base four times in a row. Suppan passed 100 pitches as Randy Flores began to throw in the pen. Suppan's night ended with a walk to Ramirez. He kept his team in the game despite never retiring the Cubs in order in any inning. Flores did a nice job, getting a pop out and striking out Hairston looking for the last two outs.

Cubs eighth – Leadoff double stranded
Hollandsworth doubled into the right field corner to lead off. Rolen made a fantastic stop and throw on a shot by Barrett for the first out. Diaz and Eckstein had Holly picked off second, but the ump missed the call. Al Reyes was up in the pen. Zambrano was allowed to hit with one out and whiffed. Flores also fanned Patterson looking to end the inning.

Cards eighth - Nada
Roger Cedeno pinch-hit for Flores and weakly bounced out pitcher to first. Eckstein also popped out to second. Walker flew out to the warning track in center as Zambrano has retired seven straight Cardinals.

Cubs ninth – Bases loaded
Julian Tavarez came in and gave up another hit to Lee. Eckstein saved an error but missed a double play on Ramirez' grounder. Burnitz walked to put two on. Hairston dropped a perfect bunt to load the bases. Ray King came in to face Hollandsworth. After almost hitting a double, Holly flew out harmlessly to center.

Cards ninth – Last shot
Pujols ground out. Rolen followed with a double to left and Zambrano was pulled with a finger blister after pitch #118. John Mabry's shot to deepest center off La Troy Hawkins was pulled down for the final out.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Thursday vs. Cubs: Chris Carpenter vs. Ryan Dempster 12:10pm FSN Midwest and ESPN
Friday vs. Astros: Jason Marquis vs. Brandon Duckworth 7:10 pm FSN Midwest
Saturday vs. Astros: Mark Mulder vs. Roger Clemens 1:15 pm WB11
Sunday vs. Astros: Matt Morris vs. Brandon Backe 1:15 pm WB11

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

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