Walton's Game Observations – Saturday

Yadier Molina powered the Cardinals over the Nationals 3-1 Saturday night.

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Washington Nationals 3-1 Saturday evening. The Redbirds' record is now an NL-best 32-16. .667 sounds really good. Sixteen games over .500 is a new season high-water mark. Their NL Central lead grew to eight games over Milwaukee.

Jeff Suppan won his fourth game against five losses while Estaban Loaiza took the loss. Suppan allowed just four hits and three walks, and only one earned run in his seven innings of work. Julian Tavarez and Jason Isringhausen with save #14 of the season ended it.

Jim Edmonds homered for the second night in a row and Yadier Molina had two hits, including a two-run shot. Mark Grudzielanek and David Eckstein also had two safeties.

Guest opinion
From Seth Trachtman of SportsBlurb.com: "You will never guess who Dusty Baker used as his leadoff man Thursday night (drumroll)….Neifi Perez. I tried to come up with a worse leadoff man but to no avail. If Baker wants to end the season now, that's fine. But to hurt his team like that is just ridiculous. With the injuries to Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano, Baker has done more to hurt this organization than you would ever fathom. They are not cursed, just stupid."

Bat rules on the bat channel
When Julian Tavarez sawed off the bat of a Nationals hitter in the eighth, Rick Horton called for new rules, ostensibly designed to better protect pitchers and infielders from flying pieces of broken lumber. While Bob Carpenter praised him, there were no specifics provided. What does Horton suggest, aluminum bats? If I was a pitcher, I'd prefer flying wood over aluminum-powered b-b's coming at me. (Addendum: On the post-game show, Horton noted his view was to outlaw maple bats. What about ash ones, too?)

FRobby does #56
Nationals manager and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson pulled #56 off the Countdown Clock with an assist from Fredbird, who drove Robinson out to the rightfield wall for the act.

Edmonds milestone
Jim Edmonds' home run Saturday night in the second inning was his 100th career home run in Busch Stadium. He is just the third player in the stadium's history to have 100 or more home runs at Busch Stadium. Ray Lankford is tops with 123 long balls followed by Mark McGwire with 119.

Recent series history
St. Louis played Washington three times this spring, going 3-0. The Redbirds were 3-3 against Montreal last season, with each team going 2-1 at their home ballparks. I made that last roadtrip to Montreal last season and plan to take the first trip to DC in late August, as well.

Good guys?
"If Milton Bradley can straighten himself out, so can Jose Guillen." So said Bob Carpenter about the talented, but troubled Nationals outfielder. Last season, Angels manager Mike Scioscia basically fired Guillen from his team. Bradley, the former Indians' troublemaker and current Dodgers player is the poster boy for bad behavior in MLB. Neither has been in hot water for oh, say six months. Carpenter's proclamation was clearly premature.

Sun gets in your eyes
With a one-hour early start, as the game began, the outfield was in full sun, but the right side of the infield was in shade.

Saturday's lineup
Eckstein, Walker, Pujols, Edmonds, Mabry (3b), Grudzielanek, Sanders, Molina and Suppan. With the obvious exception of the pitcher, the same lineup remained in place from night to night. That is most unusual for a La Russa team. In fact, he has used 39 different lineups through the season's first 48 games.

On to the game…

Nats first – Nice D
After getting ahead on the count 0-2, Suppan lost Brad Wilkerson to a leadoff walk. But, Jose Guillen ground into a 3-6-3 double play to end it.

Cards second – Edmonds, Molina unpredictable
Leading off, cleanup hitter Jim Edmonds showed bunt. Ugh. On a full count, he parked another ball on the grass berm in straightaway center. Grudz singled to left and came home on a Molina homer into the left field seats. It was his second long ball of the season. Cards 3-0.

Nats third – Trouble averted
The first hitter, Brendan Harris was hit by a pitch. Cristian Guzman hit a one-hopper to Grudz, who forced out Harris. A sacrifice by the pitcher put Guzman in scoring position with two out. Wilkerson ground out on the first pitch.

Cards third – Hit hard, but out
Leading off, Eckstein singled, but he was erased one pitch later as Walker lined into a 3-6-3.

Nats fourth – Balking at giving up runs
Suppan walked Nick Johnson with two out and balked him to second base. But, he fanned Vinny Castilla to end it.

Cards fourth – Walker out
Mabry drew a one-out walk, but was stranded. Larry Walker left the game between innings with a possible sprained ankle, replaced by So Taguchi in the field.

Cards fifth – Double play harmful
Leading off, Molina singled to deep second base. Suppan couldn't bunt him over, striking out. Eckstein slapped a single past first. Unfortunately, So ground into a twin killing.

Nats sixth – No-no, shutout over
After 5-1/3 innings, Brad Wilkerson got the first hit of the game for the Nationals. Marlon Byrd's bouncer shot off Eckstein's chest, but it was properly scored a single. The speedy Byrd would have legged it out, especially with Eckstein's arm. Jose Guillen loaded the bases on a dribbler down the third base line that stayed fair. Randy Flores began to throw as Suppan walked a run home, missing a 3-2 pitch to Nick Johnson. Fortunately, Vinny Castilla hit the first pitch sharply into a 6-4-3. Grudz did an especially-nice job standing in on the relay against a sliding Johnson. Cards 3-1.

Cards sixth – Good chance missed
Albert singled up the middle leading off. However, Edmonds and Mabry were fanned looking. Grudz hustled out a grounder to second, reaching first base safely on a very close play as Albert took third. But, Sanders popped up to strand two.

Nats seventh – Trouble avoided
#8 hitter Guzman singled up the middle with two outs. Al Reyes joined Randy Flores throwing in the pen. That got Loaiza lifted for a pinch-hitter. Tyrell Godwin flied out.

Cards seventh – Suppan warm
Scott Seabol pinch-hit for Suppan but ground out. Suppan ended his night having allowed four hits and three walks, and only one earned run in his seven innings of work. He threw 101 pitches.

Nats eighth – Tavarez time
Julian Tavarez owns the eighth inning, getting the Nats 1-2-3.

Nats ninth – Defense behind Izzy
Reggie Sanders made an excellent diving catch to get the second out of the inning after Albert previously made a nice play at first for the first out. Jason Isringhausen earned his 14th save in 14 chances, fanning the final hitter swinging.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Sunday vs. Nationals: Chris Carpenter (6-2, 4.07) vs. Livan Hernandez 1:15pm WB11
Monday vs. Rockies: Jason Marquis (5-3, 3.43) vs. Jamey Wright 7:05pm FSN Midwest and ESPN
Tuesday vs. Rockies: Mark Mulder (6-1, 3.71) vs. Jason Jennings 8:05pm FSN Midwest
Wednesday vs. Rockies: Matt Morris (4-0, 3.50) vs. Joe Kennedy 8:05pm FSN Midwest
Thursday vs. Rockies: Jeff Suppan (3-5, 4.38) vs. Shawn Chacon 2:05pm FSN Midwest

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

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