Walton's Game Observations – Saturday, April 23

Mark Mulder pitched ten shutout innings as he led the Cardinals over Roger Clemens and the Astros 1-0 Saturday afternoon.

The first-place St. Louis Cardinals took their second straight win in their three-game weekend series against the Houston Astros Saturday afternoon with a fine 1-0 win in ten innings. No one minded sitting through this contest during another cold, but sunny day at Busch Stadium.

Mark Mulder took on Roger Clemens. The pitching duel everyone expected ensued, as they locked horns in a scoreless duel through eight innings. Mulder has rediscovered his sinker and pitched a brilliant complete game in the Cardinals' first extra inning contest of the 2005 campaign. He allowed just four hits and walked none in a reminder of how great Mulder can be.

As a result, hitting was in short supply. But, the Cardinals had just enough as Larry Walker's one-out walk-off long single in the bottom of the tenth of Astros' closer Brad Lidge scored Reggie Sanders. This game was as exciting as any playoff match could be.

What's with the temp?
The game-time temperature Saturday was 42 degrees.

Horton scoop
Rick Horton offered an interesting observation at the start of the game when he alerted viewers to look out for two young emerging stars on the Astros, Jason Lane and Mike Lamb. Lane I get, but Lamb? I don't think so. He turns 30 this season and has been in the majors for six years now.

Blondie Clemens
42-year-old Roger Clemens took the mound with his hair dyed blond. Ok, if you say so, Roger.

"Do-do" Rag
Said Bob Carpenter, "Yadier Molina's got the stocking cap on under his batting helmet today." Uh, Bob, you've got to get out more. The younger generation calls them do-rags.

Pujols banged up but in
Horton reported that Albert Pujols' toe is black and blue after it was stepped on during the seventh inning of Friday night's game when he saved a Julian Tavarez throwing error. His arm was also bruised after being hit by a pitch in the fourth inning Friday. Maybe it will get his mind off his heel spurs.

Record redux
The last time the Cardinals began a season with ten wins in their first 15 games was in 2000, when they stood in first place by 2-1/2 games with a 10-5 mark on April 20. Coming into Saturday's game, the 2005 squad led the Central Division by that same 2-1/2 game mark, this time over the Astros, Cubs and Reds.

"Tony's book"
Carpenter continues to incorrectly call "Three Nights in August", "Tony's book". Buzz Bissinger is the author. It reminds me of those who had obviously never read "Moneyball" as they attributed it to Billy Beane instead of Michael Lewis.

Another TLR milestone
With the win Saturday, Tony La Russa's 2125th of his carrer, he tied Joe McCarthy for fifth place on the all-time managerial wins list. Next up is Bucky Harris at 2157, then Sparky Anderson at 2194. La Russa currently ranks third in Cardinals' managerial wins all-time and is just 18 victories short of tying Whitey Herzog for the second-most wins as the Cardinals skipper.

Another Albert streak
With his hit Saturday, Albert Pujols has reached base safely in each of his last 24 regular season games dating to the end of 2004.

All-Star Game voting open
Don't forget to vote early and often for your favorite Cardinals to join the NL All-Stars in Detroit on July 12. All-Star voting

Saturday's lineup
Eckstein, Walker, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Cedeno (lf), Grudzielanek, Molina, Mulder. Reggie Sanders was given the day off. Cedeno replaced him, as his career 10-for-23 mark against Clemens coming in was not lost on La Russa.

On to the game…

Astros first – Risk averted
Adam Everett singled on Mulder's first pitch of the game. He should have been retired on a ground out double play ball by Craig Biggio. However, Grudz dropped the ball on the turn. The umpire was gracious in giving him the first out. Mulder made it right by picking Biggio off first base and fanned Mike Lamb for the third out.

Cards first – Roger lets Roger off hook
Eckstein had a nice seven-pitch at-bat before flying out to right on a nice play by Jason Lane. Larry Walker coaxed a walk with one out. After Albert popped out, Edmonds hit a full-count grounder that Biggio muffed multiple times in the hole between first and second base. Incredibly, it was scored a hit. Rolen drew a walk to load the bases for Cedeno. Even though Clemens was laboring, Cedeno went for the first pitch and hit a lazy fly to center. Still, the Cardinals made Clemens throw 29 pitches in the inning, but missing out on the bases-loaded opportunity may come back to haunt them later in the game.

Cards third – Wrong Roger prevails again
Pujols stroked a two-out single to center with two out. Edmonds and Rolen each drew full-count walks to again load the bases for Cedeno. Cedeno hit a nubber that enabled Clemens to easily throw home for the third out. The only good news after Cedeno failed twice is that Clemens' pitch count is now 71. I can't wait for him to get out of the game so the Cardinals hitters can face the Chads (Qualls and Harville), upon whom they beat up during last year's NLCS.

Astros fourth – Mulder dodges bat
Leading off, Adam Everett's ball went off Rolen's glove for an error. Everrtt pushed Pujols when passing first, causing Astros Manager Phil Garner to argue in vain that Pujols had impeded Everett's progress. Biggio fanned. Mulder was struck on the left heel by the broken bat of Mike Lamb. Grudz threw Lamb out as Everett took second. Play stopped for several minutes when Mulder was checked out and continued.

Cards fourth – More Astros defense
With two out in the fourth, the Houston outfield made its second double-saving diving play of the day. This time, it was second baseman-turned outfielder Chris Burke robbing Mulder. Burke looks a lot better out there than he did Friday night.

Astros fifth – Mulder's run ends
Catcher Brad Ausmus singled to right with two out for the second Astros hit of the day. He was on base for only one pitch until the inning ended with a force out at second. Mulder had retired 14 in a row before the hit and has thrown just 51 pitches.

Cards sixth – Now he hits
When it wasn't needed, Cedeno singled with two outs in the sixth. He had stranded six runners already on the day. Cedeno took third as Grudz doubled into the right field corner. However, Molina's fly ball ended the third major threat of the day.

Astros seventh – Rolen and Mulder rolling
Mulder got the first out on just the Astros' second fly ball out of the day. All others had been on the ground, showing Mulder's sinker has been found. Then, Rolen made a long, long throw to get Jason Lane and caught the third out on a popup.

Astros eighth – Clemens done
#8 hitter, speedster Willy Taveras reached on a single to deep short with two out. It was only Houston's third hit of the day against Mulder. Good deal, because that forced Garner to pull Clemens for a pinch-hitter after 123 pitches.

Cards eighth – Close
Leading off, Albert took Chad Qualls deep, but the ball was caught on the track in front of the 372 foot mark in left center.

Astros tenth – Fast Lane
Mulder received a standing ovation from the Busch crowd when he came out for the tenth, having thrown 94 pitches through nine. Jason Lane led off the inning with a single into the left-field corner, but was erased on a nice 4-6-3 twin killing.

Cards tenth - That's a winner!
Starting the inning, Reggie Sanders pinch-hit for Mulder and reached via a swinging bunt toward third base. Eckstein advanced Sanders on a hit-and-run. With one out, closer Brad Lidge was called on to pitch to Larry Walker. Good decision, bad results for the Astros, as Walker shot a long single (double in any other situation) to deep right center to score Sanders. Game over. Cards 1-0.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
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 was 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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