Walton's Game Observations – Friday, April 29

The Cardinals defeated the Braves 6-5 at Turner Field Friday night.

The NL Central first-place St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Braves by the score of 6-5 Friday night at Turner Field. The Cardinals record is now 15-6 as they maintained their 3-1/2 game lead over the Cubs.

Former Oakland A's stars Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson got the pitching call. Their eagerly-awaited pitching duel did occur, but eleven runs were scored against the two, not one. On this night, Mulder was the better of the two, going seven innings. One of his five runs allowed was unearned. Al Reyes got the final out for his first save of the season and his first since 2001 when he was a Dodger.

Mark Grudzielanek continued his hot hitting with three safeties and Scott Rolen had two hits and two RBI. Larry Walker scored twice. Albert Pujols slammed a two run home run in the fifth off Mulder, covering the final margin of victory.

Change in the weather
Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox pulled Sunday's originally-announced starter Horacio Ramirez, the Braves #5 man, replacing him with John Smoltz so Smoltz would not go a week between appearances. Originally, I thought this was not good news for the Cardinals, until I looked at the numbers. As it is, they have only faced Ramirez once, a game in which he allowed just two runs in 7-2/3 innings. On the other hand, with a much larger sample size, Smoltz' 8-10, 4.19 ERA mark is noting remarkable. Bring him on!

Winning skippers
This weekend's series marks the first time that two managers with over 2,000 career wins have met head-to-head since the 1949-50 seasons when the Athletics' Connie Mack and the Red Sox' Joe McCarthy faced each other. La Russa (2,128) & Cox (2,015) rank fifth and eighth respectively among baseball's winningest managers.

Series history
The Cardinals were 4-2 (2-1 at Atlanta) vs. the Braves last season, one of just two winning seasons that the Cardinals have managed against Atlanta dating back to 1996. Since 1900, the Redbirds are 1,000-860 all-time against the Braves (Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta).

April history in the making
With a win Friday or Saturday, the Cardinals will set a new team record for wins during the month of April. Coming into Friday, the 2005 team's 14 wins tie the 1963 club (14-6) for the most ever during the month.

Gophers endangered
So far, the Cardinals pitchers are doing an excellent job avoiding one of my pet peeves, giving up the long ball. They've allowed a major league-low 10 home runs. The team's total equals that of the worst individual player, the Reds' Eric Milton. What was Cincinnati thinking when they threw all that money at Milton?

Pujols streak watch
Albert Pujols has reached base safely in his last 28 regular season games dating to last year. Coming into Friday, he has hit safely in a season-high nine-straight games, one shy of his season-best hitting streak from last season. With a hit Friday, Albert will collect his 10th career hitting streak of 10 or more games.

Iron man watch
Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen are the only Redbirds to appear in all 20 games to begin the 2005 season. So, what's new? Albert started the team's first 56 games last season before sitting for the first time on June 7.

Stories I am working on
The Lumber Yard – All about the Cardinals' hitters weapons of choice.
Tony La Russa's Pre-Game Comments – On Luna, Hart, Molina and much more.
La Russa on Three Nights in August - The Skipper's comments about the book.

Friday's lineup
Eckstein, Walker, Pujols, Rolen, Sanders, Taguchi (cf), Luna (rf), Molina and Marquis. Walker and Edmonds returned after getting Thursday off, though Edmonds did pinch hit.

On to the game…

Cards first – Hudson hammered
Eckstein reached via a short-hopper to the left fielder Brian Jordan. Walker moved him over on a surprise bunt single before Albert fanned. Edmonds stroked the first pitch he saw to right for an RBI single. The right fielder's throw went home and was mishandled by the catcher, allowing both runners to move up. Rolen smacked an 0-2 offering up the middle for two RBIs. Cedeno walked. That caused a mound summit. Grudz' double into the right field corned scored Rolen. The Braves escaped serious damage when Molina's pop to the left of the mound was caught by a diving Hudson. He then threw to third to double up the breaking Cedeno, who had headed toward home. Still, a nice start. Cards 4-0.

Braves first – Half of it back at you
Marcus Giles singled up the middle with one out. Brian Jordan took Edmonds to the wall in right center before Jim hauled it in. 46-year-old Julio Franco singled up the middle as that awful Tomahawk Chop music started. No one is chopping, however. Molina erred as his snap throw to second went into centerfield, allowing both runners into scoring position. That was costly, as Andruw Jones' full count single squirted past Eckstein on the right for a two-run single. FWIW, only one run was earned. Cards 4-2.

Cards second – Hudson back on
Those four runs may be it, as Hudson retired the Cardinals 1-2-3, including a strikeout of Walker looking to end the inning.

Cards third – Not much
After a Pujols comebacker, Edmonds drew a one-out walk. Rolen stroked a ball to right-center, but it was hauled in. Cedeno's ground out ended it.

Braves third – Starting the game over
Giles hit a one-out double that hit the warning track in right center on the fly. Brian Jordan followed with a no-doubt-about-it 430 foot home run to left that elicited a Sammy Sosa-like skip from the veteran. Andruw Jones drew a two-out free pass, but he was picked off by Mulder to end the inning. Tie 4-4.

Cards fourth – Good chance
Leading off, Grudz slapped a ball past first and aggressively stretched it into a double. After failing to get a bunt down on four pitches, Molina slapped a ball to second to move the runner up. After Mulder fanned, Giles saved a run as he dived to his left to flag down Eckstein's chopper and threw him out.

Cards fifth – Albert retakes lead
Walker stroked a gapper to left center for a lead off double. Pujols clubbed a fat pitch right down the middle for a home run about four rows into the right center seats. Cedeno reached on an error on the first baseman as he dropped the throw. First base coach Dave McKay waved for Cedeno to take second, but he was ignored. After multiple tries, Hudson picked Cedeno off. Cards 6-4.

Braves fifth – No lead is safe
A Furcal, a Mulder wild pitch and another single by Giles plated a run. Cards 6-5.

Cards sixth – A chance
Grudz singled up the middle to lead off the frame. It was his third hit of the game. Molina bunted him over. The silly Braves fans have started the wave, as if the game was somehow unimportant. Jordan made a nice, sliding catch on Mulder's line drive to left for out #2. Eck ground out to quash the opportunity.

Cards seventh – Hudson done
Hudson was pulled for John Foster after giving up nine hits and six runs, all earned. With two outs, an Edmonds foul ball zoomed up to the press box, where it put a divot in the ball about two feet to the left of Cards Media Director Brian Bartow.

Braves seventh – Albert errs or not
Raul Mondesi drew a leadoff walk as Al Reyes got up to throw. After a 4-6-3 double play, Albert Pujols erred on a shot by Pete Orr. The local scorer gave Orr a base hit, however. Made me think I was in St. Louis. No harm, as Orr was erased in a force out.

Cards eighth – Scott tried
Rolen singled off first baseman Julio Franco to start the inning, but never got any farther.

Braves eighth – Julian just fine
Mulder left after seven innings and just 90 pitches. He surrendered eight hits and five runs, four of which were earned. Julian Tavarez and John Mabry (left field) entered via a double switch. Tavarez will likely be asked to get six outs. Jordan singled up the middle with one out, but was erased in a 6-4-3 double play.

Cards ninth – Insurance declined
Adam Bernero followed Kevin Gryboski and watched as Eckstein dropped a one-out single into no-man's-land between short, left and center. Eck was erased on a fielders choice by Walker. A wild pickoff throw put Walker at second and took the bat out of Albert's hands, as he was given an intentional pass. But, Edmonds lined out to second.

Braves ninth – Reyes, King bail out Tavarez, Cards
Andruw Jones was hit by a Tavarez offering to put the tying run on base. Johnny Estrada sharply singled through the right side to put two on with no out. Ryan Langerhans pinch hit. Raul Mondesi popped out, bringing up pinch-hitter Chipper Jones in his first appearance since injuring his foot Sunday. Since Jones had a .643 career average against Tavarez, Ray King was brought in. Pujols caught Jones' high popup against the Braves' dugout rail for out #2. When Eddie Perez was announced as the pinch hitter, La Russa brought in Al Reyes. He retired Perez for his first save.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Saturday at Braves: Matt Morris vs. John Thomson 6:05 pm WB11/WTBS
Sunday at Braves: Jeff Suppan vs. Johm Smoltz 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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