Walton's Game Observations – Sunday, May 1

The Braves defeated the Cardinals 2-1 Sunday afternoon in the teams' third consective one-run contest.

The first-place St. Louis Cardinals fell to the Atlanta Braves by the score of 2-1 Sunday afternoon at Turner Field. The Braves took the final two games to win the weekend series. The Cardinals record is now 15-8 as they head to Cincinnati to take on the Reds.

Road warrior Jeff Suppan took on John Smoltz. Suppan pitched the better game, allowing just four hits and two runs in seven innings, but his offense couldn't deliver.

The Cardinals hitters continued their struggles with men in scoring position. They collected ten hits and five walks against the Braves and had runners on base in every inning, yet scored just the one run. Jim Edmonds was on base three times with two hits and a walk plus collected the lone RBI, but couldn't deliver in the ninth.

Cox won't comment
Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox had this to say about Tony La Russa's Saturday night tirade directed at him and umpire Dale Scott. "I get paid to manage my team, that's all. I manage my own business."

La Russa not backing down
La Russa is not expecting to be disciplined by Major League Baseball for his criticism of the Braves and umpire Dale Scott. However, if I were him, I'd be expecting a call from MLB discipline czar Bob Watson any time now… Jose Oquendo should be getting to build his managerial record for a few games. At least that is my guess.

More bad news for Cubbies?
Pitcher Kerry Wood had to leave Saturday's game after just three innings due to tendinitis in his shoulder. He'll be re-examined on Monday.

Nice thing going
The last time the Cardinals began a season with 15 wins in their first 22 games was their 1968 National League championship season, when they also started 15-7.

Pulse checked
La Russa is aware that left-handed reliever Bill Pulsipher continues to impress. Pulse made his second injury rehab appearance Saturday for Memphis, working a scoreless inning, allowing just one hit. Pulsipher has been on the disabled list since April 11 due to a strained right hamstring.

Starting pitching excellence
Coming into Sunday, the Cards' starters have posted a 3.39 ERA, which ranks third in the National League. After Suppan's effort Sunday, they have posted quality starts in eleven of their last 16 games. Four of the Cardinals' five starters currently have ERAs under 4.00, with Chris Carpenter on the edge at 4.01. The overall pitching staff ERA is 3.38, also ranking third in the League.

Relief fine overall, too
Despite Saturday night's difficulties, the members of Cards' bullpen have pitched well. They have allowed just seven earned runs in their last 36 innings over the last 16 games. In the process, they lowered the bullpen ERA from 6.62 on April 10 to its current 3.35. Relievers have given up 25 hits while striking out 31 and walking 15 during those 16 Games. The relievers have stranded 39 of 49 inherited runners to begin the season.

New Soup
Having pitched most of his over-1500 career innings in the American League, Suppan had never pitched in Turner Field prior to Sunday. He lost to the Braves last May 13 last season at Busch in his only career appearance against them.

Next gen Redbird
Abraham Nunez' eight-year-old son stayed with proud papa all weekend including his own spot in the clubhouse.

Guarded booth
All weekend, I've noticed that security guards were posted outside the hallway to the television and radio booths at Turner Field. I could see why if it was Chicago. Maybe Chip Caray brought them along when he left the Cubs for the Bravos this season?

Stories I am working on
The Lumber Yard – All about the Cardinals' hitters weapons of choice.
La Russa on Three Nights in August - The Skipper's comments about the book.
Cooperation between La Russa and Jocketty

Sunday's movie
The pre-game entertainment in the clubhouse was "Meeting the Fockers".

Sunday's lineup – Three regulars sit
Eckstein, Walker, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Sanders, Mabry (lf), Nunez (2b), Diaz and Suppan. Sanders, Grudzielanek and Molina were given the day off. Pujols and Rolen remained in the lineup for their 25th straight regular season game this year.

On to the game…

Cards first – Albert hits again
Pujols singled to left-center with two out and continues to hit the ball sharply each time. Pujols extended his hitting streak to 12 games in the process. Edmonds ground out to short for out #3.

Cards second – Bottom of the lineup can't deliver
Rolen blooped a single into short right to start. Then, Mabry coaxed a walk, but with the infield in, Nunez ground into a 3-6-1 twin killing and Diaz flied out.

Cards third – Loaded but empty
Eckstein singled off the mound and up the middle with one out and stole second without a throw, as the ball squirted away from catcher Johnny Estrada. Sandwiched around an Albert fly out, Walker and Edmonds drew free passes to load the bases. However, Rolen popped out a mile high to first base. Six baserunners, but none in.

Braves third – Perfect game ended
After Suppan set down the first eight Braves of the game, Smoltz singled down the right field line. Suppan buckled down and fanned Furcal swinging.

Cards fourth – Another small chance
Diaz legged out a base hit to deep short with two out, but Suppan was retired on a fly to right.

Cards fifth – No cigar
Albert singled to left with two out. On a full count pitch and Albert breaking, Edmonds expertly shot the ball between second and first to put runners on the corners. Rolen crushed Smoltz' first offering but it died on the warning track in left center.

Braves fifth – Soup cruising
Suppan fanned two in the inning and has a stretch of seven straight retired.

Cards sixth – More on
Mabry collected a lead-off single. The Cards have had baserunners in every inning, yet none have made it home. Nunez' shot to deep center was hauled in by Andruw Jones, Diaz popped up and Suppan ground into a force out.

Braves sixth – Suppan faces adversity
Suppan walked #8 hitter Wilson Betemit for only the Braves' second baserunner of the day. Smoltz laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runner up. Rafael Furcal's double shot past a diving Scott Rolen, scoring Betemit without a throw. Ryan Langerhans' sharply-hit single to right scored Furcal. Marcus Giles ground into a 5-4-3 double play, but the damage was done. Braves 2-0.

Cards seventh – Break on through
Eckstein singled, but was taken out on a double-play grounder by Walker. However, shortstop Furcal dropped the ball and was unable to make the return throw. With two out, Edmonds worked a 2-2 count before hitting a double off the wall in deep center. Walker scored. Rolen's full-count walk ended the day for Smoltz after nine hits and four walks. Mabry was retired by Chris Reitsma to end the inning. Braves 2-1.

Braves seventh – Threat turned back
Adam LaRoche singled to start things off. Kevin Jarvis began to throw as Edmonds made a shoe-top catch of Estrada's liner. After Suppan walked Andruw Jones, Dave Duncan came out to the mound for a chat. Raul Mondesi hit the ball hard to Mabry in left for out #2. Chipper Jones got the pinch-hitting assignment and his lazy fly ball to Edmonds ended the threat.

Cards eighth – Suppan's day done
Einar Diaz singled with one out. As result, Reggie Sanders pinch-hit for Suppan and ground out, advancing Diaz. Suppan's day ended after seven innings and 95 pitches. Suppan allowed just four hits and walked two while fanning four. Eckstein was out 6-3 to end another threat.

Braves eighth – Jarvis stops them
Kevin Jarvis took the mound and fanned one before walking Furcal, who stole second base. However, he stayed right there.

Cards ninth –
Closer Danny Kolb will earn his money if he can retire Walker, Pujols and Edmonds in order. Albert drew a walk, but neither Edmonds nor Rolen could prevail. Game over.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
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
Sunday vs. Padres: Jason Marquis vs. Tim Redding 1:15pm WB11

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

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