Walton's Game Observations – Thursday, April 28

The Brewers defeated the Cardinals 4-3 Thursday afternoon.

After a 76 minute rain delay, the first-place St. Louis Cardinals fell to the Milwaukee Brewers by the score of 4-3 Thursday afternoon at chilly Busch Stadium. Despite the Cardinals' six game winning streak ending, they still took the series, two games to one. They lead the NL Central by 3-1/2 games over the Cubs.

Looking for his fourth straight win, Jason Marquis opposed soft-tossing lefty Chris Capuano. Both teams seemed like they were more interested in getting out of town than playing, as hits were scarce. However, the four Brewers runs scored as a result of a home run, a double by the pitcher and walks to the number seven and eight hitters. So, Marquis has no one to blame but himself for the loss. Jim Journell had an impressive 1-2/3 innings out of the pen, though.

Reggie Sanders had a solo home run on a day the Cardinals only managed eight hits. So Taguchi and Scott Rolen were each on base three times. So had a single, a double and a walk, while Rolen walked twice and singled. Hector Luna doubled and stole a base.

Widger flashback
Even though his early-season 2004 departure from the Cardinals turned into a messy divorce, catcher Chris Widger has been reborn as a member of the 2005 Chicago White Sox, baseball's winningest team. Making him a more attractive candidate to return to St. Louis is this factoid. On Wednesday, Widger made his first-ever start at third base, adding this position to his corner outfield and first base playing portfolio. What versatility!

Pujols is the man
Hardly a news flash. After starting out with only five RBI over his first 11 games, Albert Pujols has driven in 11 runs over his past eight starts. In addition to his team-high 16 RBI, Pujols also leads the team in average at .325, home runs with five plus he is tied for the tops in stolen bases with one. He and Scott Rolen remain the only Cardinals to start every game this season.

Look out in the Bay Area
Feeling bad about Izzy's injury? How do you think the San Francisco Giants feel? Their closer, Armando Benitez, will be out for up to four months with a torn hamstring. Wait, it gets better/worse. 42-year-old former Cardinal Jeff Fassero has been identified by Manager Felipe Alou as one of the possible replacements for Benitez, along with Matt Herges. For what its worth, the Giants' pen also holds two other former Cardinals relievers, Jason Christiansen and Al Levine.

Polanco a Cub?
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Cubs may be interested in acquiring Placido Polanco from the Phillies. Not likely to happen, as the Cubs already have a decent second base replacement for Todd Walker in Jerry Hairston. Plus, Walker is expected back in a couple of weeks. The Cubs' glaring need is shortstop, where Neifi Perez has been hitting uncharacteristically well for him. Polanco can play short, but it's not his forte.

It's a matter of degrees
Hungo was explaining how a baserunner can make a better turn around first toward second by hitting the bag with his left foot instead of his right. It was fine until he said that the player has a "straighter angle" to second base that way. At least he and Dan noticed it and laughed it off this time. Always entertainment value from the booth.

Grudz' weird streak ends
Prior to Thursday's loss, every hit Mark Grudzielanek had this season was during a Cardinals' win. He singled in the seventh, but the team lost. Grudz is still working on a six-game hit streak, however.

Thursday's Countdown Clock
Marine Corporal Eric Shelvy, a graduate of DeSmet High School and current member of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, turned Thursday's countdown clock from #69 to #68. He was pictured on the cover and in Time Magazine in November during the major battle in Fallujah.

Thursday's lineup
Eckstein, Grudzielanek, Pujols, Rolen, Sanders, Taguchi (cf), Luna (rf), Molina and Marquis. Walker and Edmonds were given the day off. Sanders returned after getting on the hand with a pitch Tuesday night. Luna hadn't started or appeared in ten days in a likely preview of what will happen when 12 pitchers are desired.

On to the game…

Cards first – Two on with two out
Albert beat the shift with an opposite 3-0 single with two down. Rolen walked, but Sanders liner was snared by shortstop J.J. Hardy for the third out.

Brewers second – Lead taken
With one out, Branyan launched his fifth home run of the season over the bullpen and into the right field seats. Rolen swiped with a backhand motion at a bouncer for his second error in two days. Bill Hall ended up at second. Though he carefully avoided mentioning Eckstein's name, Hungo wondered out loud if Rolen is having to play more to the left to help cover for the shortstop's lack of range, causing Rolen to be out of his normal fielding position. Interesting theory. Brewers 1-0.

Cards second – No small ball
Taguchi's chopper bounced down the third base line and into foul ground. He ended up at second base with a double. Luna couldn't advance the runner. Molina hit a ball to the warning track, but for some reason, Taguchi tagged late and was unable to advance as a result. Even fundamentally-sound players make gaffes now and then.

Brewers third – A gimme run
Capuano doubled to center. Not a good situation when the opposite pitcher leads off with an extra base hit. With two out, Capuano was still on second and it looked promising. However, Jenkins dropped a ball in front of Sanders in right. His single scored Capuano. While Jenkins was thrown out trying to take second, the damage was done. This run should never have happened. Brewers 2-0.

Cards fourth – Lead cut in half
With one out, Sanders drilled a ball way up into the seats in left, 414 feet to be exact, or at least that was the quoted approximation. He now has five home runs and ten RBI. So drew a walk next, but was stranded. Brewers 2-1.

Brewers fifth – Marquis can't throw strikes
Marquis walked the number seven and eight hitters, Hall and Hardy, to open the frame. More trouble ahead? Capuano moved them up. Brady Clark's RBI double then did the damage, again down the line past Rolen's reach. Four runs on just four hits as Marquis is giving this game away. Brewers 4-1.

Cards sixth – Just smoke
Rolen drew a one-out walk, but Sanders and Taguchi couldn't do anything.

Brewers sixth – Two wild pitches by Marquis
With one out, Hardy singled. A strike three wild pitch on Capuano allowed Hardy to take second. He moved to third on another wild pitch that bounced off Molina's chest protector.

Cards seventh – One back
Leading off, Luna doubled on a ball that Jenkins made a diving attempt on. Molina bunted Luna over. Did anyone notice that the Cards are down by three? The throw to first on pinch-hitter Roger Cedeno's dribbler to short was just wide enough to enable him to reach safely as Luna scored. Capuano was pulled for former Cardinal Ricky Botallico. Grudz singled. With two on, Albert had a chance to do some damage. But, surprisingly, he fanned, swinging at a ball. Brewers 4-2.

Brewers eighth – Relief cold and hot
Jeff Cirillo hit Carmen Cali's first offering for a single and Jenkins walked. Both runners moved up as a Cali pitch was not well-blocked by Molina. Dave Duncan directed Cali to intentionally walk slumping slugger Carlos Lee to load the bases with no one out. Jim Journell was throwing in the pen. Another ball got away from Molina, but the runners held. After a strikeout, Cali was pulled in favor of Journell, who retired the final two Brewers hitters to end the jam.

Cards eighth – Inching closer
Rolen reached via an infield single to Hall at second. So's single put runners on the corners with one out. Rather than pinch-hit Walker or Edmonds, Luna was allowed to hit. His fielders' choice scored Rolen, as So was forced out. Luna daringly and barely swiped second base, but Molina's grounder ended the rally. Cards 4-3.

Brewers ninth – Nada
Journell completed an impressive and perfect 1-2/3 innings, including two strikeouts.

Cards ninth – Had a chance
New Brewers' closer Derrick Turnbow took over. Pinch-hitters Abraham Nunez and Jim Edmonds were retired, but the Cards had hope when Grudz was walked on four straight pitches. Pujols came up with the game on the line, but popped out to end it.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Thursday vs. Brewers: Jason Marquis vs. Chris Capuano 1:10 pm FSN Midwest
Friday at Braves: Mark Mulder vs. Tim Hudson 6:35 pm FSN Midwest/WTBS
Saturday at Braves: Matt Morris vs. John Thomson 6:05 pm WB11/WTBS
Sunday at Braves: Jeff Suppan vs. Horacio Ramirez 12:05 pm WB11/WTBS
Monday at Reds: Chris Carpenter vs. Eric Milton 6:10 pm FSN Midwest/ESPN
Tuesday at Reds: Jason Marquis vs. Aaron Harang 6:10 pm FSN Midwest
Wednesday at Reds: Mark Mulder vs. Brandon Claussen 6:10 pm FSN Midwest/ESPN

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

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