Walton's Game Observations – Sunday, May 15

The Cardinals defeated the Mets 4-2 Sunday afternoon.

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Mets by the score of 4-2 Sunday afternoon, to take the weekend series two games to one. Their record is now 24-13. The eleven games over .500 is a new season high-water mark.

It was turn back the clock day to 1998 for the Cards as Matt Morris pitched the team to victory, as John Mabry stepped in for the big first baseman and starred.

Morris took on Aaron Heilman. Morris spun 7-2/3 innings of six-hit ball, fanning six and looked like the Morris of old, albeit a bit slower with the fastball, perhaps. Jason Isringhausen collected his second save in two days, his ninth of the season.

Mabry put on his best Albert Pujols impression with the bat and glove, as he started for Albert at first. It was Pujols' first day not in the starting lineup this season, though he did enter the game in the ninth. Mabry had three RBI on two hits, including a big home run in the second inning. The Cards never trailed as a result.

Hard to play hard infield
I asked Tony La Russa when Scott Seabol would get a start. He told me, "Not here." La Russa characterized the Shea infield as one of the worst in the league and commented that it had been that way as long as he could remember. Seabol will likely get a start in Philadelphia. He collected his first-ever major league hit on Saturday as a pinch-hitter.

Grudz remains hot
Mark Grudzielanek's four RBI Saturday tied his career best, which he accomplished four times, the most recent in June, 2001 when he was with the Dodgers.

Nunez going deep
With his fourth home run of the season Saturday, Abraham Nunez tied his career high, set in 2003 with Pittsburgh. He seems to have a few more in him.

Trouble for Cubbies racquet?
Starter Carlos Zambrano, one of the few Cubs' solid pitchers, and therefore overworked, left Saturday night's game in the fourth inning with tightness in his right forearm. No word as to its seriousness yet, though the trainer reportedly called it "tennis elbow".

The real Womack returns
The New York Daily News reports that when Bernie Williams returns to play in the outfield, Tony Womack will be sent to the New York Yankees bench, rather than play second base. Rookie Robinson Cano has replaced him there.

Head for the bus
So much for that off day in New York. The Cardinals are leaving via bus to Philadelphia immediately after Sunday's game.

McRae looking to KC
I asked Hitting Coach Hal McRae if he was looking forward to Philly. He said yes, as it is the first time he has seen the new park. Like many of his era, he'd like a chance to hit in today's parks. "I'd have hit more home runs for sure", he said. Actually though, McRae is looking most forward to the trip to Kansas City next weekend. His son, Brian, is a television broadcaster there.

Rotation change helps gate
I didn't immediately understand why there were more people in the seats Friday night (43,495) than there were on a perfect Saturday afternoon (40,921). Then, I realized that Pedro Martinez had originally been scheduled to go on Friday before Manager Willie Randolph changed his rotation order. An interesting strategy to sell more tickets.

Nunez also consistent
With his single in the sixth Sunday, Abraham Nunez has a seven game hitting streak, tying his career best, set in 2003 with the Pirates. He's hit in nine of ten games since May 1 and had multiple hits four times during that stretch.

Run the (no) bases
After Saturday's game, the Mets had the standard promotion for children to be able to run the bases on the field. However, they do it differently in New York, where everything is tougher. On the Shea dirt, the grounds crew laid out large covers over each base area, but removed the actual bases. That's right. Run the bases with no bases. C'mon!

Sunday's lineup
Eckstein, Nunez (3b), Walker, Edmonds, Sanders, Mabry (1b), Grudzielanek, Molina and Morris. Albert Pujols took his first day off this season.

On to the game…

Cards second – First baseman excels
Edmonds walked leading off and scored on a home run by John Mabry that cleared the 371 sign in right center. There were a surprisingly large amount of cheers from the Shea attendees. Cards 2-0.

Mets second – One on
Mientkiewicz walked, but Morris fanned David Wright to end the inning.

Cards third – Threat ended
Morris singled past Wright at third to start the inning, but he was erased in a 6-4-3 off Eckstein's bat.

Cards fourth – Reggie longball
With two out, Sanders clubbed a ball 420 feet out to center. It was his tenth of the season. Former Gold Glover Mientkiewicz stabbed Mabry's liner to end it, saving a sure double. Cards 3-0.

Mets fourth – Mabry busy in field
Mike Cameron's shot just eluded a stretching Edmonds in right center. The leadoff double was the first Mets hit of the afternoon. Beltran singled off a diving Mabry to put runners at the corners. The run scored as Floyd's hard shot was turned into a nice double play started by Mabry. John also collected the third out on Mike Piazza's grounder. Cards 3-1.

Cards fifth – Second base, no out, no run
Leading off, Grudz singled past a driving Wright on a play identical to Morris' in the third. As Molina showed bunt, the Mets called a pitchout, yet Grudz still stole the base. Opponents continue to run wild against Piazza. After just missing a double down the left field line foul, Molina's shot to third was caught by a diving Wright. He jumped up and threw, just beating Molina. It looked like a Rolen-class play. Grudz was stranded.

Cards sixth – One more run
Abraham Nunez singled leading off. Walker singled. On Mabry's single to center, Beltran's throw home bounced off the mound and eluded Piazza as Nunez scored. Apparently, the Mets' scorer is protecting Piazza as Beltran was tagged with an error that should have been Piazza's. Despite tying his career high with seven strikeouts, Heilman was pulled. Former Cardinal Manny Aybar inherited two runners in scoring position and retired Grudz on a liner to third. Cards 4-1.

Mets sixth – Morris comes through
Mike Cameron drew a two-out walk. Beltran's single over second put runners at the corners. Morris retired the dangerous Floyd on a popup to deep short for the third out. It began to drizzle lightly.

Mets seventh – Outfield communication
Piazza gave the first pitch of the inning a ride to left center, where Edmonds pulled back at the last second to avoid a collision with Sanders, who caught the ball up against the wall. Wright singled with two out, but was stranded.

Mets eighth – Creeping closer
The rain stopped and the sun came out. Former Cardinal Miguel Cairo, who had entered in a double switch, singled to lead off the inning, but was erased in a nice 3-6-3 double play started by Mabry. The play at first was very close. That was crucial, as Cameron homered to right field just afterward. Morris was pulled for Randy Flores, who did his job. Cards 4-2.

Cards ninth - Mini threat
Sanders walked. The announcement of Pujols as a pinch-hitter for Mabry led to Dae-Sung Koo to be replaced by Heath Bell. He fanned and Grudz ground into a double play.

Mets ninth – Izzy time
Izzy threw one of his warm-up pitches to the screen, but seemed ready to face Floyd. Taguchi came in for Edmonds in center as Albert took over at first. On the second out, Piazza's liner hit Izzy in the midsection, but he held on. He fanned Mientkiewicz to end it. The best part is that Izzy only threw ten pitches.

Post-game quotes

John Mabry

On subbing for Albert Pujols

I figure the next time will be August. (laughs)

On whether he likes playing first base

Yes, it is natural because I like going to my glove side and the ball hooks to the lines.

On whether getting defensive chances early helped him

Yeah, that makes it easier. Matt Morris makes it easy when he is working fast and making strikes. That keeps the defense in it all the time. You know you're going to get ground balls. That's the thing – you need to be ready.

On staking a lead

Any time you can get ahead like that and with Morris pitching, you know they're not going to score a whole lot. So, hopefully, he'd hold them off and we'd continue to score.

On whether the old Matt Morris is back

He's getting right back there, man. I don't think people realize how hurt he was last year. Watching him come out for the first four or five games this year, he is close to where he was. I think what happened to him too was that he learned how to pitch while he was hurting a little bit. It makes him even more dangerous now.

On whether it feels good to contribute

It's a great feeling. Any time you can help the ball club not to skip a beat when you have an injury to a key guy like Rolen and be able to give a day off to Albert and the team to not miss a beat; it's a good feeling.

On Mets starter Aaron Heilman

He was using both sides of the plate, changing speeds. He was throwing well. He got behind 2-0, but he held them right there. That is what you ask from your starting pitchers. When he comes out, they have a chance to win the ball game and that is what he did. He was just as good out there.

On whether the Cardinals have a special confidence

There are a lot of good players and good players have that kind of confidence. When you get out there, you want to help and contribute. What they do to separate themselves is that they work hard at what they do. When they are good and they work hard, it makes a good combination.

Tony La Russa

On Morris

To hold them to two runs like that; that is an outstanding job.

On Mabry's play in the last week

He played for us like that last year, too. He's really tough-minded and his attitude is so good, whatever chance he gets, where ever he hits, you're going to get his best. He should be admired for that.

On Morris coming back

He looks like his old self. It was an outstanding job today.

On Izzy

As long as it wasn't his right hand or arm, cause anything else… he likes pain. He jumps off roofs and all that kind of stuff in his career, when he was a young kid. That's the best thing that could have happened to him. I didn't think Mientkiewicz had a chance after he was hit. (I am kidding. I am kidding about the pain.)

On the Mets

Like most good clubs, if they can stay relatively healthy, they've got a good club. They will be in contention. You can tell he (Manager Willie Randolph) is in control over there. He has an outstanding coaching staff. They go about the game right. They are going to be tough to beat. They have a tough division, but I am very impressed. I saw a lot of them in spring training so I saw them continue it.

On eleven wins over .500 as the season's high water mark

You've got to accumulate the wins. That is how you get to October. It is early in the process. It is the first time we got eleven. Then we get to 15… You can't stop now, that's for sure.

On the day off Monday

I asked the guys if they wanted to come to the ball park and work out. They've been to the ball park already for a month (20 games in a row and 30 days in a row with the Milwaukee rainout being added to an off-day). I think most of them decided they would pass (grins). The pitchers always want to hit. I said, "If you guys want to hit, you can go over there."

On Pujols coming in

Bad managing. He struck out. I was going to bunt against the left-hander to get Pujols up in the ninth. I thought that was the best shot to take. If he gets a hit, it might help break it open, but it didn't work out.

On Pujols' weakness

I guess one thing that Albert can't do is pinch hit. I wouldn't bet on hit.

On hoping not to find out if Albert is a poor pinch-hitter

Yes, let's hope not.

On Mabry playing first

He's an amazing player. He's got a tough-minded approach to all of this. Wherever he plays, wherever he hits; you get my best. That is easy to say but very hard to do. He is to be admired for the way he goes about those situations.

On whether the old Morris is back

I think he's pretty much looked that way in every start.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Monday: Off day
Tuesday @ Phillies: Jeff Suppan vs. Cory Lidle 6:05pm FSN Midwest
Wednesday @ Phillies: Chris Carpenter vs. Jon Lieber 6:05pm FSN Midwest/ESPN
Thursday @ Phillies: Jason Marquis vs. Brett Myers 12:05pm FSN Midwest

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

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