Walton's Game Observations – Monday

Albert Pujols led the lost Cardinals over the Rockies 5-4 Monday night.

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Colorado Rockies 5-4 Monday evening in a sloppily-played game at damp Coors Field. The Redbirds' record is now an NL-best 33-17. Their NL Central lead remains 7.5 games over the Cubs, who beat the Dodgers.

Jason Marquis took on Jamey Wright. It was a scoreless pitching duel into the fifth inning and oddly, all of the early runs scored on miscues. Most costly for the Cards was a three-base error by Roger Cedeno. Yet, when the Cards took their first lead of the night in the seventh, it set Marquis up to be the winner. He allowed just four hits, but walked five and fanned four in six innings. Two of his three runs allowed were earned.

Brad Thompson, Julian Tavarez and Jason Isringhausen delivered three one-run innings in relief. Izzy earned his 15th save in as many chances.

This was Albert Pujols' night, however. He single-handedly turned a disastrous night into a victory when he one-handed a three-run home run in the seventh. Sometimes, the team needs to hop onto the big first baseman's shoulders and this was one of those nights. Usually, a team with three wild pitches and three errors will be defeated. But, not this time.

Edmonds' deep drive into history
Jim Edmonds hit home runs in all three games of the just-completed weekend series versus the Washington Nationals. Last July, Edmonds matched a Cardinals record by homering in 5-straight games, joining Jim Bottomley (1929) and Rip Collins (1935) as the only Cardinals who accomplished the feat.

Izzy on fire
Jason Isringhausen has converted 14 straight save opportunities this season and a career-high 19 straight dating back to last season. Izzy's last blown save was on September 17 against Arizona, a game in which he got the win after allowing the tying run in the top of the ninth. Currently, he has a 14-1/3 inning scoreless streak, the longest among all Cardinals hurlers this season, and one inning short of his career-high mark set in May-June 2002.

Tavarez tough
Julian Tavarez is second among National League relievers with 11 holds and he's allowed just one of 13 inherited runners to score. That is also second-best in the NL. During the rain delay, La Russa called him "one tough son of a gun."

History-setting lead
Prior to this year, the largest lead that any Cardinals team has ever held heading into Memorial Day was 3.5 games in 1982 over the NY Mets. Ever! The largest recent lead by any team heading into Memorial Day was Seattle's 12.5 game advantage over Oakland in 2001. The largest lead most recently built by a National League team at Memorial Day was by the Atlanta Braves, who led by eight games over the New York Mets in 1998.

There's good and there's…the Rockies
Coming into Monday, the Cardinals' 15 road wins this season are more then the combined win totals of both the Rockies (14) and Kansas City Royals (13).

Recent Rockies history
The Cardinals were 5-1 against Colorado in 2004. They were 3-0 at Coors and 2-1 at Busch. It was the third time that they swept the road portion of their season series. The other years were 2004, 2002 and 1999. The Redbirds trail the all-time series between the two clubs, 58-54, of which they trail 31-27 in Denver.

Away from familiar teams
Last weekend's series versus Washington began a stretch of seven games against foes outside of the National League Central as the team will play 19 of their next 22 against non-NL Central teams. Of course, that includes upcoming interleague play versus the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Decent stretch of play
The Redbirds have won seven of their last nine games and 14 of their last 20. Their five-game win streak ended with the 3-2 loss to the Nationals on Sunday. The team's record since losing Scott Rolen with a shoulder injury is 12-5.

Molina moving
Yadier Molina is batting .338 (25-for-74) in May, having hit safely in seven of his last eight games. Molina's .338 batting average ranks eighth among National League hitters this month.

Young Rockies reeling
On their just-completed 2-8 road trip, as a team, the Rockies hit .199, including a .122 mark with runners in scoring position. They went one stretch of 31 consecutive at-bats with runners in scoring position without a hit. It may have something to do with them using 12 rookies to date this season, the most in Major League Baseball

Familiar and unfamiliar broadcasters
Drew Goodman and former Cardinal pitcher George Frazier were on the call FSN Rocky Mountain while Bob Carpenter and Mark McLemore covered the game for ESPN.

Rain delay
The start of the game was delayed one hour, 39 minutes due to rain. A large crowd was expected for Fireworks Night at Coors Field.

Monday's lineup
Eckstein, Cedeno (rf), Pujols, Edmonds, Mabry (3b), Sanders, Nunez (2b), Molina and Marquis. Walker remains out with his ankle sprain, while Grudzielanek got a breather due to a horrible career mark against Wright (3-for-32, .094). On the other hand, Pujols (.455), Mabry (.421) and Cedeno (.381) like hitting against Mr. Wright a lot. And, Todd Helton has a .400 mark against Marquis.

On to the game…

Cards first – Aborted takeoff
Eckstein started well with a single, but he was erased in a double play started by Cedeno. Matt Holliday hauled in Albert's shot to left to save an extra-base hit.

Rockies first – Marquis missing
Marquis walked Todd Helton and Preston Wilson with two out. Molina lost a ball in the dirt. The wild pitch allowed both runners to move up. However, Marquis retired Brad Hawpe on a grounder to escape.

Cards second – Hard to get going
Jim Edmonds led off with a walk but was stranded right there.

Rockies second -
Mabry saved a double, diving to his right to spear Matt Holliday's liner. Desi Relaford singled. He came into the game 4-for-8 for his career against Marquis. But, Marquis escaped unharmed.

Cards third – Loaded but nada
Leading off, Molina and Marquis singled. With two down, Albert walked, but Edmonds fanned swinging for the third out.

Cards fifth – Can't quite do it
Wright hit Molina in the shoulder with a pitch. He took first with no out. Again, Marquis was not bunting. His grounder to second erased Molina. Eckstein threw his bat at the ball to ensure he hit to the right side to move Marquis over. Check. Cedeno was the third out as he didn't get the ball out of the infield.

Rockies fifth – Cedeno the butcher
Leading off the fifth, Relaford knew where to hit the ball – at Cedeno. After a circuitous route toward the ball, he tried for a basket catch, but when his elbow hit the ground, the ball squirted out. Cedeno's foot kicked the ball away as Relaford scampered all the way to third. It was rightly scored a rare three-base error. Now we know what Cedeno is good at. Marquis looked angry. Molina tried to pick Relaford off third, but threw the ball low and toward the runner. As the ball went into left, the runner scored. J.D. Closser doubled. Wright was unable to get Closser over, but Barmes' ground out did. With two out, Luis Gonzalez also ground out to short. Marquis did a nice job to escape. Rockies 1-0.

Cards sixth – Another unearned run
Albert singled leading off and Edmonds drew another walk. Mabry ground into a double play. Relaford gave the run right back as his throw to first to try to retire Sanders was too high. Pujols scored as Sanders took second on the error. On a 3-0 count, Nunez hit a fly to left. Why was he swinging? Tie 1-1.

Rockies sixth – More shaky defense
Preston Wilson singled, but Edmonds held him at second on a single by Brad Hawpe. After a Duncan conference, Eckstein got Hawpe at second on a force, but made an ill-advised throw to first. Albert fortunately came off the bag to retrieve it, holding Wilson at third. Relaford walked to load the bases. A wild pitch that Molina tried to backhand allowed one run in as the other runners moved up. Marquis though he had Closser struck out but when the call didn't go his way, he showed his anger. La Russa and Duncan joined in the griping from the dugout when Closser walked. Duncan was ejected without ever setting foot on the field. Flores and Thompson are throwing in the pen. Pinch-hitter Cory Sullivan came up. On ball two, Marquis and La Russa complained more. The ball was hit to short, but Nunez was playing too far from the bag. By the time Eckstein threw to first, Sullivan legged it out. Another run came home. Rockies 3-1.

Cards seventh – Albert makes it all better
Eckstein walked with two out. Cedeno's swinging bunt barely stayed fair to put two on. Former Tigers closer Matt Anderson was pulled for former Cardinal draftee Jay Witasick. Albert hit a ball one-handed just over the leaping left fielder for a three-run homer. One big play erased a night of disappointment for Marquis and his teammates. Cards 4-3.

Rockies seventh – Brad T. tough
Brad Thompson came in for Marquis and So took over defensively for Cedeno (about seven innings too late). Thompson impressively retired the 2-3-4 hitters in order, including fanning Preston Wilson looking to end it. La Russa continues to use Thompson in important spots and Thompson continues to excel. If he keeps this up, he should get to stay when Cal Eldred is ready.

Cards eighth – A bit of room
Sanders singled with one out. Nunez' double into the left field corner scored Sanders. Cards 5-3.

Rockies eighth – More miscues make it too interesting
Hawpe hit Thompson's first pitch of the inning off the top of the wall. He didn't run hard and Sanders got the ball in so quickly that Hawpe had to stay at first. La Russa came out to buy time for Tavarez to finish warming up. In my opinion, he should have started the inning. Matt Holliday singled and Relaford moved the runners up. Hawpe scored and Holliday moved up on a wild pitch. Thompson was charged with the run. Tavarez managed to barely get the final two outs. But, he did it nonetheless. Cards 5-4.

Cards ninth – Good chance missed
Eckstein drew a lead-off walk. He tried to take third on Mark Grudzielanek's pinch hit single. But, the throw from Hawpe in right and tag by Relaford just nabbed Eckstein at third, or so the ump said. La Russa argued to no avail. At least Grudz alertly took second on the throw. But, Edmonds fanned again with runners in scoring position. So did Mabry.

Rockies ninth – La Russa and Izzy finish off the Rocks
Barmes singled off Izzy on a 3-1 count leading off. He was sacrificed to second. Even though he represented the winning run, Helton was walked intentionally. La Russa was well aware that Helton had a 2-for-3 career mark with a homer off Izzy. Preston Wilson sharply ground into a 6-3 double play to end it.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
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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