Walton's Game Observations – Wednesday, April 27

Mark Grudzielanek's cycle led the Cardinals over the Brewers 6-3 Wednesday afternoon.

The first-place St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers in the second of their three-game series 6-3 Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals have won six in a row, 11 of 12 and lead the NL Central by 4-1/2 games over the Cubs and Reds.

On his 30th birthday, Chris Carpenter got the start against Victor Santos. Carp pitched another fine game, walking none in 7-2/3 innings and striking out 12, tying his career high. It was his fourth win of the year. Overall, the Cards staff fanned 16 Brewers without a walk. Julian Tavarez earned his first save of the season.

Unlike the last time they faced Santos, the Redbird hitters got to Santos early, scoring three in the first, plus single runs in the second and fourth. The hitting star of the day was Mark Grudzielanek, who collected a home run, single, double and triple for a rare cycle.

On the post-game show, Grudz told Wayne Hagin that Albert Pujols made him aware of the possibility before hitting his triple. Said the always-humble second baseman, "What can you say? I'm just thankful." So are we, Mark.

Remember when?
Just a few short years ago, Tony Pena was the toast of all of baseball as the American League Manager of the Year led the Kansas City Royals to 83 wins. Some pocket general managers suggested the Cardinals dump one Tony to get another. In 2004, that thud you heard was the Royals crashing back to earth as they posted a 104-loss season. So far in 2005, the Royals are playing at a pace to lose 121 games. As a result, Pena received the dreaded vote of confidence yesterday. "Tony Pena is our manager this year, no doubt about it," Royals general manager Allard Baird said. "We're not going to change the direction of the ballclub."

Santos hot
Santos came in on a roll. He faced the Cardinals on April 16 at Miller Park and pitched eight innings in a game the Brewers lost 3-2. He allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits and one walk, facing the minimum in five of eight innings pitched. Last time out on Friday in San Francisco, Santos pitched his first career complete game, limiting the Giants to one run on five hits. He did not issue a walk and struck out four.

Streaks continue
Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen are the only Redbirds to appear in all 19 games of the 2005 season. Pujols has reached base safely in his last 27 regular season games dating to last year.

Starting pitching excelling
Two shutouts in the last five games coming into the day helped the starters' ERA drop to 3.27. The Cardinals starters have had quality starts in eight of their last 11 games. Four of the Cardinals' five starters currently have ERAs under 4.00, with Chris Carpenter at 4.15 before Wednesday's game.

Relief doing the job, too
Before Wednesday, Cardinals' relievers have allowed just five earned runs in their last 28-2/3 innings over the last 12 games. In the process, they lowered the bullpen ERA from an ugly 6.62 on April 10 to its current 3.50. The overall staff ERA is at 3.33, which is third best in the National League.

Dayley on the Countdown Clock
Former Cardinals left-handed reliever Ken Dayley turned the Busch Countdown Clock number from 70 to 69. Dayley pitched 11 years in the majors, including 1984-1990 as a Cardinal. His best season was 1989, when he appeared in 71 games, logging a 2.87 ERA.

A-Rod reminds us
I'm sure you've read by now that the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez hit three home runs in his first three at-bats and collected ten RBI on Tuesday night. Perhaps you didn't know that the major league record of 12 RBI in a game is jointly owned by a pair of former Cardinals - Jim Bottomley (1924) and Mark Whiten (1993).

Cycle history
Grudz' cycle was the first by a Cardinal since John Mabry did it May 18, 1996 at Colorado. It was the first of Grudz' career, the third at this Busch Stadium and the 16th in the history of the franchise. Other past "cyclists" include the aforementioned Bottomley, as well as Stan the Man, Kenny Boyer (twice), Lou Brock and Willie McGee.

Wednesday's lineup
Grudzielanek, Walker, Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, Taguchi (lf), Nunez (ss), Molina and Suppan. Eckstein was out until coming is as a defensive replacement in the eighth. Reggie Sanders was also given the day off after being hit on the hand by a pitch Tuesday night.

On to the game…

Brewers first - Carp pumped
Carpenter fanned the side in the top of the first.

Cards first – Out on top
Grudz hit a leadoff home run into the first row of seats into left center. It was his first as a Cardinal. Walker followed with a double to center and Albert singled to right to put runners on the corners. Edmonds plated Walker with a double to left center and Rolen walked to load the bases. So popped out and Nunez' ground out scored one more before Molina flied out. Cards 3-0.

Brewers second – Adversity overcome
Carlos Lee reached on a Rolen error and moved up on a Russell Branyan bunt single. Spivey then fanned, followed by a nice 3-6-1 double play started by Pujols and finished with a nice stretch by Carpenter to end the jam.

Cards second – Albert adds an RBI
Grudz singled with one out, improving his career mark against Santos to 9-for-18. Walker moved him up. Pujols slammed the first pitch he saw for an RBI single. Cards 4-0.

Brewers fourth – Carp still sharp
Carpenter struck out two of three.

Cards fourth – Grudz loves Santos
Molina walked to lead off the inning and Carpenter sacrificed him over. Grudz shot a one-hopper into the Cards bullpen for another RBI and a double. At this point, he is 3-for-3 with two RBI. With a triple in one of two more likely at-bats, he would hit for the cycle. Albert was walked intentionally, before a wild pitch moved the runners up. Edmonds' fly ball ended it, though. Cards 5-0.

Brewers fifth – Breaking through
After Branyan and Spivey fanned, things got dicey. A Bill Hall double and a Chad Moeller single scored one. Pinch-hitter Wes Helms singled past a diving Nunez, but both were stranded. Cards 5-1.

Cards fifth – Swiping So
So singled to center to start the inning and easily stole second. It was only the team's third steal in 19 games. But, neither Nunez nor Molina could get the run home.

Brewers sixth – Lead cut in half
Carpenter's ninth strikeout was also his third of Jeff Cirillo on the afternoon. Geoff Jenkins doubled to the opposite field with one out and moved up to third on a ground out. Carpenter could have erased Jenkins if he had chosen to engage him in a rundown, but instead took the sure out. It didn't matter as Branyan's ball got up and went beyond Edmonds and over the fence for a two-run homer. Edmonds might have gotten back sooner, but seemed to be fooled by the depth of the batted ball. Spivey's single brought Duncan out to the mound before Carpenter escaped the inning. Cards 5-3.

Cards sixth – Mr. Cycle scores
With one out, Grudz stroked a ball into the right field corner that got by Jenkins. The home scorer gave him a triple, instead of a double and an error. That completed the cycle for Grudzelanek. On a chopper by Walker, Grudz may have been able to come home, but didn't. Pujols was intentionally walked again with two out. Edmonds made them pay with an opposite-field RBI single to left. Cards 6-3.

Brewers seventh – More air
Carp fanned two more.

Cards seventh – Carp left in the tank
Molina singled with two out. As a result, even after 100 pitches and seven innings, Carpenter was allowed to hit. Though he was cruising, why not let the pen get six outs? Al Reyes appeared to be ready. Let's hope we don't regret this later in the season. That late season 2004 biceps ailment can't already be forgotten, can it?

Brewers eighth - King relieves
Jenkins singled with one out. Ray King and Julian Tavarez are throwing in the pen. Carpenter fanned Lee for K #12 and was taken out on a high note. He ended with 118 pitches, but why burn the last 20? King got the last out of the inning on what else?; a strikeout.

Brewers ninth – Tavarez closes
Julian Tavarez committed a throwing error to put one on but had retired the first two Brewers of the inning via strikeout. He came back to fan pinch-hitter Chad Magruder to end the game.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Thursday vs. Brewers: Jason Marquis vs. Chris Capuano 1:10 pm FSN Midwest
Friday vs. Braves: Mark Mulder vs. Tim Hudson 6:35 pm FSN Midwest/WTBS
Saturday vs. Braves: Matt Morris vs. John Thomson 6:05 pm WB11/WTBS
Sunday vs. Braves: Jeff Suppan vs. Horacio Ramirez 12:05 pm WB11/WTBS

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

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