Walton's Game Observations – Friday

Behind the pitching of Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals defeated the Astros 2-0 Friday night.

In an old-fashioned pitching duel, the St. Louis Cardinals shaded the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park by the score of 2-0 Friday night. The Redbirds' record is an NL-best 35-19 and their road mark improved to 18-9 (.667).

Chris Carpenter went for his eighth win against Andy Pettitte. He pitched eight shutout innings, allowing eight hits and two walks. He struck out six.

Pettitte allowed just five hits and no walks in seven, but left behind as Jim Edmonds' third inning double scored Carpenter with the first run. Albert Pujols had two hits, including an important solo home run in the ninth, but he also struck out twice.

Guest commentary
Billy-Ball, who is a most irreverent and entertaining daily blogger, has an amusing recap of Peter Gammons' 2004 forecasts at his site, Billy-Ball.com. Let's just say that Gammo missed a bit when he had the two worst teams in baseball, the Royals and Diamondbacks, winning their divisions and the Cubs on top in the World Series. My inclusion of this has nothing to do with the fact that Gammons picked the Cards third in the NL Central. OK, I am lying. It did…

Dangerous wood
I initially scoffed at Rick Horton's wish to outlaw maple bats. While I have no way to know what type of wood the bats were that are involved here, there were at least two high-profile broken bat injuries in the past week. The left arm of Rick Helling, pitching in the minors for Nashville, was impaled in the forearm by a shard of a broken bat. Also, last weekend, Pirates infielder Freddy Sanchez had to get nine stitches after bring struck in the wrist with a piece of a flying bat. And, I don't mean the furry kind.

Extra outfielder passed on
In a surprise, Cleveland Indians' outfielder Ryan Ludwick cleared waivers and has been sent outright to Triple-A Buffalo. I am amazed that he was not claimed by some team, including the Cardinals. I can only hope that Walt Jocketty has something bigger up his sleeve.

Baby ‘Stros
The Astros are sporting an all-rookie outfield – the first time they've done that since 1982. The babes are Chris Burke, Willy Taveras and Todd Self.

Albert and Aaron
Astros analyst, former All-Star pitcher and manager Larry Dierker favorably compared Albert Pujols to Henry Aaron, using as reference a ball that Albert hit to the left field corner during the 2004 All-Star Game that "did not hook an inch".

Long ball experts
There has been a lot of talk about the Cardinals stars' batting averages at Minute Maid. They've also hit a lot of homers. Pujols is tied for second most ever by a visiting player with 12 and Edmonds is fourth with nine long balls.

Friday's lineup
Eckstein, Edmonds, Pujols, Sanders, Grudzielanek, Seabol (3b), Taguchi (rf), Molina and Carpenter. Molina, Sanders and Eckstein returned after a day off. Yadi also returned after slightly re-injuring his ankle Wednesday night. With the lefty on the mound and his numerous ailments, most recently an ankle sprain, not to mention a 1-for-24 career mark against Pettitte, it is surprising to see Edmonds play, despite his past success at Minute Maid. It was Edmonds' first appearance in the #2 hole this season. He also started in that spot seven times last season. Walker also sat.

On to the game…

Cards first - Something
Albert singled through the right side with two outs. He was stranded there.

Astros first – Something similar
Craig Biggio singled with two out. He didn't advance.

Astros second - Threat turned back
After Chris Burke walked and Adam Everett singled with one out, Brad Ausmus lined into a unassisted double play started and finished by Albert at first.

Cards third – Lead taken
Despite his ankle being taped, when Molina shot a ball past Morgan Ensberg at third, he was able to leg out a double. Carpenter's chopper to short caused Molina to be erased trying to advance. Eckstein singled to left. Edmonds doubled off the wall, scoring Carpenter. Two runners in scoring position for Albert, but he whiffed on a bad pitch. Sanders also fanned. Still, the Cards' record when scoring first is 21-6. Cards 1-0.

Astros fourth – Two on … shortly
Berkman drew a one-out walk. Ensberg dropped a single in front of the deep-playing Taguchi in right. Chris Burke's double play ended it.

Astros fifth – Poor Houston execution
Adam Everett singled past third leading off and Ausmus moved him up on a ground out. Pettitte singled to put runners on the corners. Willy Taveras missed a squeeze attempt and Everett was hung out to dry. Pettitte took second on the rundown. When Taveras singled to right, Pettitte tried to come home. Molina had the ball with enough time to smoke a cigarette before Pettitte came into view. He never got within eight feet of home plate. Out #3.

Cards sixth – Sanders finds fountain of youth
After Albert fanned for the second time, Sanders singled to left with two outs. It is the fifth time this season that Albert has struck out more than once in a game. Sanders stole second and third on consecutive pitches. Ausmus didn't even throw on the latter. Even more impressively, there had been only one stolen base attempt against Pettitte all season. But, the excitement ended as Grudz hit into a 6-3.

Astros seventh – Stranded on third
Adam Everett doubled to the wall with two out for his third hit of the night. A passed ball allowed Everett to take third. Ausmus lined out to So for the third out.

Cards eighth – Carp hits
Despite having thrown 105 pitches, Carpenter awarded La Russa's decision to allow him to hit by leading off with a single against reliever Chad Qualls. It was only his second safety all season. A double play quickly sent him back to the bench, but at least Pettitte was out of the game

Astros eighth – Carp escapes hook
Speedster Willy Taveras' broken-bat single with one out started a rally. A wild pickoff throw from Carpenter that eluded Albert allowed Taveras to easily take second. Ray King got up to throw in the bullpen. In a clutch move, Carp fanned Biggio on pitch #115 for out #3. His night ended on a high note.

Cards ninth – Albert makes them eat their words
Former Cardinal and very marginal pitcher Russ Springer took the mound for the ninth. Even I wanted to hit, so I can imagine what the Cardinals' hitters were thinking. The Astros' broadcasters actually said out loud without laughing that Albert could strike out a third time. Almost before they finished the exchange, Albert homered. Thanks guys, and thanks, Russ. Fortunately, you still stink. Sanders walked but Grudz doubled him up. Cards 2-0.

Astros ninth – Nail-biter
Ray King came in to face Lance Berkman. His first pitch was a single to right. Not exactly what was planned. Enter Julian Tavarez. He whiffed Ensberg. Then, a line-drive double play, Nunez (who came in as a defensive replacement at third) to Pujols ended it.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Saturday at Astros: Jason Marquis (6-3, 3.39) vs. Wandy Rodriguez 3:05pm Big FOX
Sunday at Astros: Mark Mulder (7-1, 3.72) vs. Roger Clemens 1:05 pm WB11
Monday vs. Red Sox: Matt Morris (6-0, 3.81) vs. Tim Wakefield 7:10 pm FSNM & ESPN2
Tuesday vs. Red Sox: Jeff Suppan (4-5, 4.41) vs. Matt Clement 7:10 pm FSN Midwest
Wednesday vs. Red Sox: Chris Carpenter vs. David Wells 7:10 pm FSNM & ESPN2

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

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