Walton's Game Observations – Sunday, April 24

Albert Pujols led the Cardinals over the Astros 8-5 Sunday afternoon for a series sweep.

The first-place St. Louis Cardinals swept the Houston Astros in their three-game weekend series with a 8-5 win Sunday afternoon. They've won four in a row and nine of ten and lead the NL Central by 3-1/2 games over the Cubs and Reds.

In his second start of the regular season, Matt Morris took on Brandon Backe. Morris allowed just two runs in five innings. Jim Journell struggled, but the rest of the pen was stellar, including Jason Isringhausen, who collected a rare four-out save, his seventh of the season overall.

On the hitting side of the contest, Albert Pujols put the Cards ahead for good with a two-run homer in the first. Mark Grudzielanek and David Eckstein each had three hits. Two of Eckstein's were doubles. Scott Rolen added a triple, as the offense is beginning to show some life.

Silver Sluggers awarded
Prior to the game, Walt Jocketty presented Jim Edmonds with his first-ever Silver Slugger award for hitting excellence last season. Albert Pujols was awarded his third Silver Slugger at his third different position, first base. He previously won as a leftfielder and a third baseman.

Good scheduling fortune
Over the past week based on the rotations and one injury, the Cardinals have avoided facing Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and now, Ben Sheets. Sheets was scheduled to pitch tomorrow, Monday, but was hospitalized for two days at the end of the week due to an inner ear infection.

Scoring adjustment
After the fact, Scott Rolen's error on Saturday was changed to a base hit. As a result, the Cardinals have the fewest errors in the league at seven. They also have the most wishy-washy scorer and whineyest manager and pitching coach about it. Let me be clear, however, that I am not aware of any calls made to the scorer about this particular ruling.

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Astro
The Houstonians enjoy a 7-2 record this season at the Juice Box, otherwise known as Minute Maid Park. On the other hand, they've been unable to win on the road, coming into Sunday's game with a 1-7 road mark this season.

Mulder's mastery
With his masterful 10-inning complete game shutout Saturday, Mark Mulder has now thrown 18 consecutive shutout innings, allowing just six hits over that same stretch. I can't wait until Friday night, when I will be on hand to witness Mulder take on the Atlanta Braves and his former teammate Tim Hudson at Turner Field.

Next weekend
Speaking of next weekend, on Saturday, Matt Morris will take on John Thomson and on Sunday, Jeff Suppan opposes Horatio Ramirez. What a weekend of baseball is ahead!

What is a pundant?
As Carpenter was recounting the standings and the Cardinals' 3-1/2 game lead, Horton showed off his extensive vocabulary. Said Rick, "That is what a lot of the pundants around the Central Division would expect."

Gould's shrimp on steroids
As Rich Gould did his spot for Fast Eddie's Bon Air, he blabbed on about their peel and eat shrimp. "Man, they're good if they're from Mexico… These are shrimp on steroids, I'm telling you..." Is he sampling cold, frosty Buds between innings?

Sunday's lineup
Return of the "A Team". Eckstein, Walker, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Sanders, Grudzielanek, Molina and Morris.

On to the game…

Astros first – Morris touched early
Adam Everett doubled off the left field wall deep in the corner on a 3-1 count leading off the game. Orlando Palmeiro moved him over and Jeff Bagwell singled him home. Astros 1-0.

Cards first – Two singles, a double, two triples and a homer
Eckstein muscled a one-hopper off the left-field wall with another leadoff double. With one out, Albert crushed a 439-foot home run to the top of the grass in front of the batter's eye in straight-away center. It was his fifth of the season. It was also his third home run in just his sixth career at-bat against Backe. Rolen followed with a triple into the right field corner with two outs. Reggie Sanders crushed a ball into deepest center that should have been caught by rookie Willy Taveras to end the inning. However, Willy got turned around and the ball, aided by the wind, evaded his glove. Sanders slid headfirst into third, even though there wasn't a throw there as the ball slipped out of the hand of the cutoff man. Not to be greedy, but Sanders might have been able to come home. But, it didn't matter as Grudz singled him home on a full-count pitch. Molina then stroked a single to center. The Cards had as many hits here in the first as they did all day Saturday. Cards 4-1.

Astros second – Morris does his job
Morris did nice work after the long break, retiring the Astros in order. He's set down five in a row. It is always good to see the Cardinals' starter maintain command on the mound after the offense has a big inning.

Cards second – Another across
Walker stroked a two-hopper off the left-center wall for a one-out double. He had sacrificed the first time up. Walker tagged up on a deep fly to left by Albert. Edmonds coaxed a walk to put runners on the corners. Rolen's full-count single to left scored Walker. Cards 5-1.

Astros third – Leadoff walk to pitcher turned into run
With Backe on via a walk and one out, Sanders made an excellent running catch, crashing into the wall, but holding onto the ball hit by Everett. On an apparent miscommunication between Walker and Edmonds, Orlando Palmeiro's full-count ball turned into an RBI double. Cards 5-2.

Cards third – Two more with two down
Grudz hit the first pitch of the inning with a single up the middle for his second safety of the day. Molina moved him up. Little muscle man Eckstein slammed a 2-2 count off the wall in left-center, as his double easily scored Grudz. Walker's single to left plated Eck. Cards 7-2.

Astros fourth – One in scoring position
Lane singled to lead off the inning and was bunted over to second by Burke. However, he was stranded.

Astros fifth – Another in scoring position stranded
With one out, Everett singled for his third hit of the day and was moved up to second with two outs. But, Bagwell flew out to left to end it.

Cards fifth – One more
Grudz led off with his third hit of the day, a single to deep short. Molina had some trouble getting a bunt down until laying down a perfect one with two out. Roger Cedeno was given a chance to pinch-hit for Morris, but popped out. Eckstein dropped his third hit of the day into no-man's land in short center. The cutoff man intercepted the throw home and caught Eckstein between first and second after Grudz came home. Cards 8-2.

Astros sixth – Journell lost
Jim Journell took over on the mound and had zero command. Before he knew it, the bases were loaded with no out. Al Reyes got up in a hurry. After Journell walked the #7 batter, Ausmus, to force a run home, Dave Duncan came out to visit. It was an appropriately short discussion. Eckstein tossed Taveras' tailor-made double play ball past Grudz. It was his first error of the season. Instead of two outs, another run came home and the bases remained loaded with none out.

Astros sixth (continued) – Almost a triple play
Biggio shot a one-hopper to Rolen, and as the run scored, Rolen stepped on third, then threw to first to get Biggio. Albert tagged out Taveras, who remained standing on first. As the Cards left the field with an apparent triple play, Garner ran out to complain. The umps returned the Cards to the field, ruling that Tavares was indeed safe. Cards 8-5.

Cards sixth – Two on, none in
Russ Springer came in to pitch and Walker and Pujols both worked him for free passes. But, that was it. They were the sixth and seven runners of the day stranded by the Cardinals.

Astros seventh – Bullpen righted
After Journell's painful inning, it was a welcome relief (pun intended) to see Ray King come on to pitch. He fanned Bagwell looking to get off in the right foot. With two out in the inning, King was replaced by Julian Tavarez as Sanders also left the game for So Taguchi via a double switch. Tavarez got his man.

Astros eighth – Threat stopped
Burke led off with a single against Tavarez and took second on an out. With two out and Luke Scott announced to hit, Jason Isringhausen was brought in. Izzy got his man.

Cards eighth – One on
43-year-old lefty John Franco got the first two outs in the eighth. His replacement, Chad Harville walked Albert, but fanned Edmonds.

Astros ninth - None and done
Izzy took them down in order for his seventh save of the year.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Monday vs. Brewers: Jeff Suppan vs. Wes Obermueller* 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
* Ben Sheets had been hospitalized Friday and Saturday with an inflamed nerve in his inner ear. Obermueller will get his Monday start as a result.

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

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