Walton's Game Observations – Friday, April 22

The Cardinals held on to defeat the Astros 8-7 Friday night.

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The first-place St. Louis Cardinals opened their three-game weekend series against the Houston Astros Friday night with a shaky 8-7 win at a cold and damp Busch Stadium.

Jason Marquis, who earned his third win of the season, opposed Brandon Duckworth. Going into the sixth, Marquis was cruising with an 8-1 lead, but he, Randy Flores and Al Reyes struggled big-time, allowing the ‘Stros back into the game. Marquis was charged with five runs and Flores one. Julian Tavarez also allowed a run, but stabilized the ship in his 2-1/3 innings of work. Jason Isringhausen collected the save.

Mark Grudzielanek and So Taguchi knocked in two runs each via doubles. Before leaving, Marquis collected two hits, including a double, and walked once in three appearances. His .333 batting average is higher than that of any of the Cardinals' regulars.

Walton on Cards Talk tomorrow
Listen in to the extended Memphis Redbirds pre-game show prior to their Saturday 6:05pm CDT tilt against the Omaha Royals. I'll be the guest of David Kelly, the Redbirds' new #2 play-by-play man, talking about the Cardinals and baseball in general.

"Jimmy Ballgame?"
Am I the only one finds the FSN Midwest "Cardinals Tonight" team's continual labeling Jim Edmonds as "Jimmy Ballgame" irritating?

Pre-game Infomercials?
The Suntrup Auto Family, complete with front-man Joe Buck, were featured on a five-minute feature during "Cardinals Tonight", taking bows for their charitable efforts. Very humble. By the way, did you know they sell cars, too?

Mr. Happy Crack appears
As previously promised via his press release, Mr. Happy Crack threw out the first pitch Friday night. My unconfirmed report is that Mr. Unhappy Steroid was unavailable, as he values his privacy. Seriously, Cardinals Care will get a cut of all Crack sales during the game… Ok, I give up. Read about it yourself. Mr. Happy Crack

Berkman not back
At least one media outlet incorrectly assumed that the reason that rehabbing Astros outfielder Lance Berkman (knee) traveled to St. Louis was because he was almost ready to be activated. Instead, Manager Phil Garner told Mike Shannon on the pre-game show that if everything goes well, Berkman will go out on a minor league rehab assignment at the start of the week. Too bad he will miss this series… Overall in his career, Berkman has hit .317 with 18 doubles, 18 home runs and 64 RBI in 79 games against the Cardinals.

Too much Dan
During one commercial break, a Dan McLaughlin commercial for Hot Shots Bar and Grill was followed by a Dan McLaughlin spot for Marshall Wireless. Next was an unrelated commercial and the break concluded with another Dan-O Hot Shots spot. Enough, already…

Make the home cooking count
This is the third game of a stretch in which the Cardinals play 14 of 20 games at home. The time is now for the team to stake their early-season lead.

Looking back at the rivalry
In 2004, the Cardinals were 8-10 versus the Astros. Houston was the only team against whom St. Louis had a sub-.500 record against. They were only 3-6 against the Astros at home. The Cardinals lead the all-time series with Houston 305-274 and hold a 139-113 advantage at Busch Stadium.

Thanks, Roger
Saturday's pitching matchup is the Astros' Roger Clemens against Mark Mulder. These same pitchers were last opponents at the 2004 All-Star Game, held in Houston. Mulder earned the win, allowing a run on two hits in two innings. On the other hand, Clemens was pounded. He allowed six runs, three earned, on five hits in just one inning of work. That put the National League in a hole from which they could not escape. The loss eventually cost the Cardinals home field advantage in the World Series. How could that not have made a difference in October?

Quality control
Cardinals starters came into Friday's contest with a string of seven straight quality starts and though Marquis was one out short Friday night, the Cards still have ten in 15 games this season. That is good for a tie for second best in the league. However, before celebrating, be aware that Houston is the #1 team with 11. (Definition: A quality start is when a pitcher works six or more innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs.)

The Rat on the clock
Former Cardinal third baseman and current Astros hitting coach Gary Gaetti, the pride of Centralia, Illinois, tore down the Busch Stadium Countdown Clock number Friday night. Near the end of his career, Gaetti played in St. Louis. From 1996-98, he hit .263 with 51 home runs and 192 RBI as a Cardinal. He played a majority of his career with the Minnesota Twins, winning a World Series in 1987, the year he was the MVP in the American League Championship Series. The G-Man was a two-time All-Star as a Twin and earned four Gold Gloves plus a Silver Slugger award. During his playing days in The Metrodome, there was a banner regularly displayed by Gaetti's admirers which said "Liza Minnelli Fan Club". Honest.

Hungo's Waffle House
They're at it again. Dan baits Hungo, who waffles. This time, Dan looked at second baseman Craig Biggio coming to the plate and asked Al if Biggio shouldn't enter the Hall of Fame since former Cub Ryne Sandberg made it. Hungo was looking for syrup when he replied about Biggio, "He's reaching numbers that are Hall of Fame types." Oh, really, Al? Thanks for that expert, insightful commentary.

Al lives for this game
As Hungo was talking about David Eckstein's father's political career, he shared this chestnut. "He lost in the playoffs for the mayor of his town near Orlando."

See you later (in Atlanta)
I'll be reporting live from Atlanta's Turner Field for next weekend's series against the Braves. Subscribe to The Birdhouse and Scout.com now to catch all the interviews and insider commentary. In fact, you can take advantage of our seven-day free trial right now. You'll not be disappointed.

Friday's lineup
Eckstein, Grudzielanek, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Sanders, Taguchi (rf), Molina, Marquis. Slumping Larry Walker was given the night off.

On to the game…

Astros first – Risk averted
With one out, ageless Craig Biggio doubled off the left field wall. But, Marquis stranded him by quickly getting the final two outs.

Astros second – Infield hit by the catcher
Catcher Raul Chavez reached via a dribbler between Marquis and Rolen with two out, but stayed right there.

Cards second – Edmonds bunting????
For the second night in a row, cleanup man Jim Edmonds came up showing bunt. This time, he did it. It was perfectly placed, stopping on the dirt between the line and the infield grass. To me, it shows either Edmonds' lack of confidence mindset or that of Tony La Russa. Either way, I am not enamored, despite the fact that Edmonds was standing safely on first.

Cards second (continued) - Duck not at home in water
Rolen and Sanders each drew walks next to load the bases. So Taguchi then stroked a broken-bat double past the third base bag for two RBI. Trying to field Molina's swinging bunt caused Duckworth to slip and fall on the damp grass. His ill-advised throw toward first from the seat of his pants was wild, allowing two more to score. Taguchi made a very nice slide. Marquis worked a walk. Still no outs. Eckstein bunted into a force out at third. After a Grudz out, Albert singled to left, bringing run #5 home, but Eckstein was tagged out as he overran third base. Cards 5-0

Astros third – Coming back
Disappointingly, with his five-run lead, Marquis allowed a single by Duckworth leading off the inning. After Marquis went 3-0 on Adam Everett, Molina came out to talk. It seemed like a good idea, but it didn't help, as the next pitch was ball four. Biggio singled to load the bases with no out and the meat of the lineup ahead. Taguchi caught Jeff Bagwell's sacrifice fly just in front of the right field fence. Jason Lane hit into a 5-4-3 double play at just the right moment. Cards 5-1

Cards third – Two on, none in
Rolen singled with one out, but second baseman in the outfield (sound familiar?) Chris Burke tried to make a diving catch and missed, allowing Rolen to cruise into second. The generous home-team scoring gave Rolen a double. I bet Tony and Duncan didn't call the official scorer to complain about that call… Sanders took his second walk of the night, but neither scored.

Astros fourth – Triple-whiffing
Marquis fanned the side in order.

Cards fourth – Duck sacrificed
Marquis doubled to left leading off the frame, as Burke slipped when fielding the ball. Marquis took third as Eckstein singled up the middle. Rookie Willy Taveras got spun around on a possibly-catchable shot to deep center and helped turn Grudz' ball into a double in the process. Grudz took third on a wide throw home and collected two RBI in the process. Pujols was hit on the elbow on a 2-2 pitch. Edmonds collected run #8 on a sacrifice fly. Garner left Duckworth in to finish the inning even as he was getting torched, ostensibly because he was hitting second the next inning. Cards 8-1

Astros fifth – More Ks
Willy Taveras led off with a single, but the inning ended without incident after two more strikeouts and a force. Much better than last time. Marquis has fanned seven in 79 pitches through five.

Cards fifth – Marquis on the bases again
Against Chad Harville, Marquis singled the other way to reach base for the third time with two out. He's doing it with the bat as well as his arm.

Astros sixth – No relief for out of gas Marquis
With one out, Lane was given a free pass to first. After another strikeout, Burke also walked; then Chavez singled to center to jam the sacks. Randy Flores hurried to warm up in the pen. Taveras' two-run single just eluded Eckstein. With that, the pitching change was made with two outs. Flores plunked former Cardinal Orlando Palmeiro on the arm with his only pitch of the game to reload the bases. Exit Flores, enter Al Reyes. After going 0-2, Adam Everett stroked a full-count bases-clearing double. Biggio was hit by a Reyes pitch, the second hit batsman of the inning. As Julian Tavarez warmed up, Reyes walked Bagwell. Tavarez became the fourth hurler with two out in the inning, and finally secured the third out. Cards 8-6

Cards sixth – A little smoke
Against former Cardinal Russ Springer, Edmonds walked with two out. But, Rolen fanned.

Astros seventh – Ever so closer
Morgan Ensberg homered to straight-away center leading off the inning against Tavarez. Chavez singled with one out. As Tavarez fielded Taveras' bunt and threw to first, he fell down. Pujols made a great stretch to the foul side of the bag and collected the out, but he was spiked in the heel as Taveras hit the bag. Pujols appeared uninjured, but how can you tell with this guy? Cards 8-7

Astros eighth – Lead run at the plate
Tavarez allowed a two-out walk to Bagwell, but retired Lane to end his 2-1/3 inning stint.

Cards eighth – Albert strikes out
Larry Walker pinch-hit and whiffed. Eckstein singled, and was moved to second on a Grudz' ground out. However, Dan Wheeler finished his two innings by fanning Albert for just the fifth time this season.

Astros ninth – Izzy time
Jason Isringhausen made his first appearance since collecting three saves over last weekend. Ensberg led off with a single, but Izzy struck out Burke and got a line out and a groundout to end it.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Saturday vs. Astros: Mark Mulder vs. Roger Clemens 1:15 pm WB11
Sunday vs. Astros: Matt Morris vs. Brandon Backe 1:15 pm WB11
Monday vs. Brewers: Jeff Suppan vs. Ben Sheets* 7:10 pm FSN Midwest
Tuesday vs. Brewers: Chris Carpenter vs. Doug Davis 7:10 pm FSN Midwest
Wednesday vs. Brewers: Jason Marquis vs. Victor Santos 12:10 pm FSN Midwest
* Sheets is hospitalized in Houston with an inflamed nerve in his inner ear. Odds are that he will miss his Monday start as a result.

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

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