Walton's Game Observations – Saturday, April 30

The Atlanta Braves defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Saturday night.

The first-place St. Louis Cardinals fell to the Atlanta Braves by the score of 3-2 Saturday night at a rainy Turner Field. The series is tied at one game each. The Cardinals' record is now 15-7 as they continue to lead the National League Central by 3-1/2 games over the Cubs.

In his third start of the season, Matt Morris took on John Thomson. In a steady light rain, Morris was masterful, allowing just four hits and one walk in six one-run innings. However, he got a no-decision as Al Reyes went from last night's hero to tonight's goat. The lead runner he allowed onto base scored via a Randy Flores bases-loaded walk in the seventh. Flores was charged with a hard-luck blown save. Tony La Russa was ejected during that stretch for arguing balls and strikes. He seemed to have a valid point. Jim Journell served up a walk-off home run to Raul Mondesi to end the game.

It was a night of missed opportunities as the Cardinals batters collected eleven hits. Albert Pujols slammed two doubles for an RBI. Yadier Molina also had two hits, one a double, walked and drove in the other run.

Mo's Braves Blues
Coming in, the Braves had owned Morris in terms of win-loss. His career mark against them is just 1-5 in 11 games, including eight starts, yet his ERA versus them is a stellar 3.28. Morris is overdue for the offense to get him some runs this time out. Oddly enough, the Braves are the only team in the major leagues which Morris has a losing regular season record against. That will take a few years to change, given the unbalanced schedule.

The weather
As soon as Friday's game was complete, the tarp was put on the field immediately. Overnight, severe storms rumbled through the area, with at least six hours of heavy rain. However, it stopped mid-morning and the grounds crew had the field ready to go. In fact, the outfield was dry enough that the Braves could assemble at 4pm behind second base for their 2005 team picture.

Current streaks
Coming into Saturday's game, the Cards have won 12 of their last 14, including six straight on the road. The last time the team lost back-to-back was the first weekend of the season - April 9-10 against the Phillies.

Extending the April record
The Cardinals' 15 wins this month set a club record for April, surpassing the 1963 club (14-6) for the most wins during the month. Saturday's game gives them a chance to extend the new record to 16.

Continued good road play
Coming into Saturday, the Cardinals are 7-1 on the road to begin the season and have won six straight away from Busch. They swept a three-game series at Milwaukee and a two game series at Pittsburgh during their last road trip prior to this one. Last season, the Cards were 52-29 on the road.

Medium-term excellence
The Redbirds' combined 120-63 (.656 win percentage) mark over the past two seasons is the best in the majors. Next are the Dodgers (114 wins), Yankees (110), Braves (109) and Red Sox (109).

Closer merry-go-round to continue
Until Jason Isringhausen returns from his abdominal strain, the Cardinals will not have a set closer. In fact, four different pitchers have closed out their past four wins with Izzy, Randy Flores, Julian Tavarez and Al Reyes each earning a save.

Saturday in the clubhouse
The game of choice on the big screen was the ending of the Blue Jays at the Yankees. As former Cardinal Tino Martinez came up in the ninth, Jim Edmonds boldly predicted that a walk-off homer would ensure. He was wrong about that, but the Yanks did win. Rolen, Mabry and Sanders were studying video off to the side.

What they're reading
Tony La Russa is currently reading Stephen Hunter's Havana. Jeff Suppan is consumed by episodes of the television series 24 and is reading Ken Follett's Lie Down with Lions.

Steroid chat?
Player representative Ray King prematurely ended the pre-game reporters chat with Tony La Russa, as he had "something important" to discuss. I suspect it is the new proposal by Bud Selig for a mandatory 50-game suspension for first-time steroid users and 100 games for strike #2. #3 and you're out. Seems fitting and surely easy to understand.

A visual treat
At 6:48pm, my night changed completely. The Turner Field press box is enclosed by sliding glass windows that are so dingy, they are almost opaque. But, with about twenty minutes remaining before game time, they are slid aside to provide a complete, open and almost totally panoramic view of the stands and the game.

Biggest screen
In addition, the Turner jumbotron must be a high-definition model, as it provides one of the clearest, most lifelike pictures I've ever seen. It's taller than the top two decks of the stadium. In fact, before the game, I was joking about it with Reggie Sanders. I told him I'd be keeping him on the binoculars to ensure he isn't sneaking a peek during the game.

Starters together
After the game, all five starting pitchers headed out together. It was good to see.

Saturday's lineup
The A-Team lineup was back. Eckstein, Walker, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Sanders, Grudzielanek, Molina and Morris. Edmonds got the call at clean-up. For the Braves, Chipper Jones was a late scratch, replaced by Pete Orr.

On to the game…

Cards first – Out on top
Eckstein singled to right to start the game the right way. Walker ground into a fielders choice that eliminated Eckstein from the bases. Albert shot a one-hopper to the left-center field wall to easily score Walker as the home crowd booed. It began to rain, the first time it had done so in at least nine hours. Cards 1-0.

Cards second – May I have another?
Sanders led off with a broken-bat groundout. Grudz followed and reached on a throwing error by third baseman Pete Orr. He scored all the way from first as Molina's liner to deep right just eluded Raul Mondesi for a double. Morris legged out a single to third as his chopper took too long to come down. Eckstein ground into a fielders choice to force Morris. Walker fanned looking on a ball up and in and took exception to it with home plate umpire Dale Scott. The two talked for some time as the Cardinals switched to defense. Cards 2-0.

Braves second – They take one back
Opening the inning, Adam LaRoche doubled into the left-field corner. Brian Jordan hit another ball hard, but Walker hauled it in on the track in right. Johnny Estrada also struck the ball to deep right. His sacrifice fly scored LaRoche easily. Andruw Jones, relegated to hitting seventh in a relatively weak Braves lineup, sharply singled up the middle, but Raul Mondesi flied out. Between innings, the grounds crew applied drying agent to the mound and home plate area. Cards 2-1.

Cards third – Rolen on and off
Rolen's hard-hit ball to left was trapped by a hard-running Brian Jordan. The single put Rolen at first with two out, but he was picked off.

Braves third –
Thomson guided a single to left to start the frame, but the top of the lineup couldn't bring him home.

Cards fourth – Yadi hits again
Yadier Molina singled to left with two out. It is only his third multi-hit game of the season. The other two were on the 18th (three hits) and the 19th (two hits).

Braves fourth – More K's for Matt
For the second inning in a row, Morris fanned two of three. He's struck out six on the evening.

Cards fifth – Scoring position with two out
With two outs, Albert smacked another one hopper off the wall, this one to center, as Jones couldn't get to it. However, Edmonds fanned to end the threat.

Braves fifth – Two on, but none in
Andruw Jones doubled to deep left on a ball that struck the line. Sanders appeared to think it was fair, but it didn't look as if he could have reached it anyway. Morris did a nice job to retire the next two before walking Rafael Furcal with two out. Orr flied out to Edmonds to make the game official as the rain continued to fall. The grounds crew again came out to manicure the dirt.

Cards sixth – Playing it safe
Rolen led off with his second single of the night and took second on a Sanders ground out. Grudz was called out looking on a ball up and away. Molina was walked intentionally with two out to get to Morris. Will La Russa go for the big inning or keep Morris in? In a debatable move, La Russa chose to let him hit. Out #3.

Braves sixth – Morris affirms decision
Between innings, instead of taking infield, Rolen stood at Morris side, off to the side of the mound. It almost looked as if he was a pitching coach. Grudz made a diving catch on a first-pitch liner hit by his opposite number, Giles. Morris fanned LaRoche for his eighth of the night and retired Jordan on a grounder. Morris has only thrown 90 pitches to this point, ten this last inning, so La Russa's decision looked golden. Again , the grounds crew was out.

Cards seventh – Can we have a do-over?
Eckstein tried to reach via bunt but was thrown out by the new pitcher, John Foster. Walker singled between first and second. With Pujols coming up, Bobby Cox removed Foster for Kevin Grybowski. He drilled Albert on the hip with his first pitch. Edmonds' sharply-hit ball struck Pujols on the foot, but the Braves threw away the ball. That enabled Pujols to come home and Edmonds to take second. It was all reversed after an umpire's conference. Pujols took a seat as Edmonds was sent back to first. The call did not favor the Cards, but it was the correct one. Rolen took a called strike three to end it.

Braves seventh – It all unravels
Al Reyes took over. In six innings, Morris allowed four hits, one run, only one walk and eight strikeouts. Estrada greeted Reyes with a single up the middle and Jones singled to left. Mondesi took strike three, except it was called ball four. Molina threw out Estrada at third for a double play, except it didn't count. Reyes was tossed from the game for arguing as Randy Flores was brought in to face pinch-hitter Chipper Jones. Bases loaded and no out. Jones was hit on the toe with a pitch, but the umps missed it. Flores' and everyone else in the park thought he had struck out Chipper, but Scott called it a ball. Was he trying to recover from the missed call? La Russa immediately stormed out of the dugout and after clearly uttering the BS phrase and probably a lot more, was ejected. The next pitch was ball four as a run was forced in. Flores' blown save was the first by a Cardinal pitcher this season. Furcal lined out to right, but no one tested Walker's arm. Julio Franco pinch-hit and struck out and Flores also retired Giles on a ground out. Tie 2-2.

Cards eighth – Mini-threat didn't pan out
Grudz singled up the middle with one out off Chris Reitsma. Roger Cedeno pinch hit for Flores with two out, but he ground out to short.

Braves eighth – Walker and King busy
Ray King came in to pitch. With two out, Wilson Betemit doubled to right and took third as Walker slipped and fell on the wet grass. However, he was stranded as Andruw Jones flied out to Walker.

Cards ninth – Kolb does the job
Closer Danny Kolb got the call with the top of the lineup coming up. Eckstein tried too hard to get out of the way of an inside pitch and ended up grounding out to short. Walker looked bad striking out before Albert lined to right.

Braves ninth – Journell journey ends quickly
Jim Journell was thrown into battle to start the ninth and Taguchi came in for Walker via the double switch. His first pitch went to the screen. His second pitch left the park via the bat of Raul Mondesi. It landed 400 feet later in the left-center field seats. Albert Pujols was especially unhappy, gesturing at home plate umpire Dale Scott before leaving the field. Braves 3-2.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
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
Thursday vs. Padres: Matt Morris vs. Brian Lawrence 7:10pm FSN Midwest
Friday vs. Padres: Jeff Suppan vs. Woody Williams 7:10pm FSN Midwest
Saturday vs. Padres: Chris Carpenter vs. Adam Eaton 1:15pm FSN Midwest

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

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