Walton's Game Observations – Friday

The Cardinals defeated the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 6-4 Friday night.

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field by a 6-4 score Friday night. The Cards overall record improved to 42-24 and their road record is 21-12, identical to their home mark. With the Cubs' loss, the Cards NL Central lead is seven-and-a-half games.

Mark Mulder earned his eighth win of the year against former Met phenom Scott Kazmir. If Mulder could have gotten Jorge Cantu out, he would have had a two-hit shutout through seven. Instead, Cantu hit a pair of home runs for all three of Tampa Bay's scores. The bullpen came through barely, as it took three pitchers to get through the eighth and Izzy gave up a run in the ninth, but collected his 19th save. I would have given it to Brad Thompson or Ray King, myself.

The Cards again played small ball, with 11 singles and a double. So Taguchi, showing good bat control, had three hits and an RBI, as did Reggie Sanders. Scott Seabol added a pair of hits and a walk, scoring twice. Abraham Nunez also had two hits and an RBI.

Got em all
The Devil Rays are the only team in the majors that the Cardinals had never played during regular season action. That was broken Friday night.

Back home, sort of
The Cardinals held their spring training camp in St. Petersburg for over 50 years from 1938-42 and again from 1946-97. They played their games at Al Lang Stadium.

Hal's second homecoming with one to go
For the second time this month, Cards hitting coach Hal McRae returned to a place of former employment. In the first round of interleague play, it was Kansas City, where he starred as a Royals hitter from 1973 through 1987 and manager from 1991 through 1994. Hal was bench coach of the Devil Rays before becoming their manager in April, 2001. After leaving that role following the 2002 season, he spent the past two years as special assistant to the Rays' GM, Chuck LaMar. Next stop for the Cards is Cincinnati, where McRae began his playing career back in 1968. He was also their hitting coach in 1995 and 1996.

The Rays' television play–by-play man is driving me crazy accenting the second syllable of Albert's last name. No wonder he struck out twice.

Friday's lineup
Eckstein, Taguchi (cf), Pujols, Sanders, Grudzielanek, Walker, Seabol (dh), Nunez (3b) and Molina. Jim Edmonds remained out with his rib injury. David Eckstein and Yadier Molina returned from a night off. It is not a good sign when two power positions, third base and designated hitter, are in the bottom third of the batting order. Given the players available, I wouldn't have done it differently. But, it does again point out the bench weakness.

On to the game…

Cards first – Good start, but shoulda' got more
Albert walked with two outs. Sanders singled, then so did Grudz, as Albert scored. Getting on top early. Good. Cards 1-0.

Cards second – No momentum
Seabol drew a lead-off walk, but got no help, whatsoever.

Rays second – Two RISP
With two out, Alex Gonzalez walked. Jonny Gomes' double fortunately didn't score Gonzalez, as Toby Hall was retired for the third out.

Cards third – Odd inning
Leading off, So singled. Albert fanned; a rare occurrence; his 28th in 64 starts and 258 at-bats this season. So was thrown out trying to steal second base. Sanders legged out a chopper in front of the plate as Kazmir rolled his ankle trying to make the play. In an odd situation, the game was stopped so Kazmir's ankle was taped. He fanned Grudz looking to end it.

Rays third – Lead lost
Damon Hollins singled and was forced out by Carl Crawford. Crawford lasted one pitch before Lugo's grounder erased the lead runner again. Second baseman Jorge Cantu slammed an 0-1 pitch out to left. Rays 2-1.

Cards fourth – Quickly even again
Seabol missed a home run to left center by just a few feet and settled for a one-out double. Nunez' single to center scored Seabol. Hollins threw home for some reason, allowing Nunez to take second. He would have gotten another base had not the wild throw bounced off Nunez' discarded bat. Eckstein drew a two-out walk in between strikeouts by Molina and So. Kazmir threw 34 pitches in the inning and 97 in the game. Given the bad ankle, he's done. Tie 2-2.

Rays fourth – Playing possum
Gonzalez walked again with one out and Gomes was hit by a pitch on the knee. He never moved. It didn't matter, as the Cards turned two to end it.

Cards fifth – Back on top
Sanders reached for the third time with a one-out single against reliever Travis Harper. Walker singled with two outs. As the ball got away from Aubrey Huff in right, Sanders originally stopped at third, not looking at Oquendo at all. But, when the relay was muffed, too, he scored. However, Walker rounded second base too far and was caught for the third out. Cards 3-2.

Cards sixth – Expanding the lead
Seabol dropped a single to right. Nunez also placed a single. Both runners moved up on a sacrifice by Molina. Sebaol scored on a Eckstein ground out and So singled home Nunez. The Rays broadcasters called them "professional at-bats. Cards 5-2.

Rays sixth – Cantu two
On the first pitch of the inning, Mulder was taken deep by Jorge Cantu again. This is the fricking second baseman. Half of the Rays' hits on the night are Cantu long balls. That got Brad Thompson up in the pen. Cards 5-3.

Rays seventh – Mini threat
Gomes didn't get out of the way again, getting hit to lead off the inning. A wild pitch moved him up. But, he was stranded.

Rays eighth – Tavarez tenuous, Thompson tenacious
Like the book says, Julian Tavarez was called on to pitch the eighth. The book was wrong this time. Julio Lugo reached via an infield single leading off. With one out, Lugo took third as Huff slammed a ball off the wall in right center. Walker made a great play to get the ball in quickly and keep the runner from scoring. That was all for Julian, as Ray King got the call. He fanned pinch-hitter Nick Green and yielded to Brad Thompson. It seems to me like this is the first time that Thompson has been brought in the middle of a late-inning situation. Reggie Taylor hit a long, long ball on 0-1, but it was foul. Molina came out for a chat. On the tenth pitch of the at-bat, Thompson finally got Taylor swinging. Damn, it's really hard not to like this kid!

Cards ninth – Walk equals a run
Eckstein drew a leadoff walk. So's single put runners on the corners. Pujols fanned again, this time against Lance Carter. Eck scored on a sac fly by Sanders. Nice pick up. Cards 6-3.

Rays ninth – Izzy time indifferent
Izzy fanned Gomes, then Nunez made a nice backhand play for the second out. Hollins singled and took second on fielders indifference. Why give him a base? Crawford singled and the same thing happened. Grrr… But, Lugo popped out to end it. Cards 6-4.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Saturday @ Tampa Bay: Matt Morris vs. Mark Hendrickson 5:15 pm WB11
Sunday @ Tampa Bay: Jeff Suppan vs. Doug Waechter 1:15 pm WB11
Monday @ Reds: Chris Carpenter vs. Aaron Harang 6:10 pm FSN Midwest/ESPN2
Tuesday @ Reds: Jason Marquis vs. Brandon Claussen 6:10 pm FSNM
Wednesday @ Reds: Mark Mulder vs. Ramon Ortiz 11:35 am WB11

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

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