The Inside Pitch With Ray Mileur

The Cardinals head into the All-Star break 24 games over the .500 mark and with an 11.5 lead in the N.L. Central...the Redbirds claimed first place on April 16 and have not relinquished that spot, improving on a 15-7 April to go 18-11 in May and 16-11 in June...for the seventh time in Tony La Russa's 10 seasons in St. Louis the team will enter the break with a .500-or-better record... the Birds were 21 games over .500 last season (54-33)...FYI: The largest lead the Cardinals have held since 1942 heading into an All-Star break was a 10 game lead in 1968 over the Reds and the Braves.

The second half for the Cardinals consists largely of trying to stay as healthy as they can.

Their schedule is more daunting, with another trip to the West Coast and trips to Washington, Atlanta and Florida besides 14 games with the Chicago Cubs. But, with their rotation, their bullpen, their defense and their offense, it would be hard to believe they could squander at 12 1/2 game lead.

The immediate concern is C Yadier Molina, who has been outstanding both throwing the ball and in his hitting since the first three weeks of the season. Molina suffered a small non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal on his left hand when hit by a pitch from Arizona RHP Claudio Vargas on Thursday. Molina was not immediately disabled but he didn't play in the weekend series at San Francisco.

The club probably will try to upgrade its outfield depth, with 38-year-old RF Larry Walker having suffered through some injuries this year, and the other starters being 37-year-old LF Reggie Sanders and 35-year-old Jim Edmonds.

Also, the Cardinals could be in the market for a lefty to go with Ray King in the bullpen. The right-handed side of the bullpen is deep with Jason Isringhausen, Julian Tavarez, Al Reyes, Brad Thompson and Cal Eldred, but LHP Randy Flores is inexperienced.

The second half also should see the gradual revival of 3B Scott Rolen, who was virtually useless to the offense in the first half. He missed 5 1/2 weeks with shoulder problems that required surgery, but he wasn't very good before the surgery, either.


--LHP Mark Mulder has been perceived as struggling this year with an earned run average closer to five than four, but he went into the All-Star break with 10 victories.

The 10th came in a 3-1 Cardinals win at San Francisco Friday night as he pitched seven scoreless innings, permitting just four hits. Mulder worked more quickly than usual and worked inside more than usual.

Mulder pitched with the lead his entire game. RF Larry Walker clobbered a pitch from San Francisco RHP Jason Schmidt 455 feet for a two-run homer in the first.

"Some things have improved since I got the shot," said Walker, referring to a cortisone shot he received to relieve pain from a herniated disc in his neck. "Pain isn't radiating down my arm anymore."

--C Yadier Molina apparently won't have to go on the disabled list after suffering a small non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal bone on his left hand when he was hit by a pitch Thursday night in Arizona.

"Right now, the indications is that it's not disabling," said manager Tony La Russa.

Molina said, "It sounds bad and it feels bad, but it's like a bruise. I think (in) a couple of days, I'll be back."

Molina likely will return to the lineup Friday at home against Houston.

--C Mike Mahoney was recalled from Triple-A Memphis for the second time. INF Hector Luna was optioned to Memphis.

--The home run allowed by LHP Ray King to left-handed hitting LF Luis Gonzalez on Thursday was the first homer King had given up to a lefty in his two seasons with the Cardinals.

--1B Albert Pujols got a rare start off Thursday but pinch hit in the eighth and stayed in the game. Pujols, overanxious, popped up on the first pitch with runners at first and third and one out.

--1B/LF John Mabry completed a 7-for-8 series at Arizona with a three-hit game Thursday.

--RHP Chris Carpenter showed his value over eight strong innings Wednesday night.

SS David Eckstein showed it with one bunt. Carpenter was locked in a classic pitchers' duel with Arizona's Javier Vazquez as the game went to the ninth inning. The score was 1-1 when catcher Yadier Molina led off with a double, and So Taguchi ran for him.

Pinch hitter Abraham Nunez bunted Taguchi to third base, and then came Eckstein's brilliant play. Manager Tony La Russa put on the suicide squeeze, on which the runner breaks from third as the pitcher delivers the ball to the plate, and the hitter has to get the bunt down.

It's tough for a lot of major leaguers just to make contact, but Eckstein's challenge was even greater -- the pitch from Vazquez was down and in, barely off the ground. But Eckstein not only got his bat on the ball, he laid down a perfect bunt that scored what proved to be the winning run in a 2-1 victory.

Carpenter became the fourth pitcher in Cardinals history to win his 13th game before the All-Star break.

Carpenter is 7-0 with a 1.69 ERA on the road this season. Overall, he is 13-4 with a 2.51 ERA. He threw 112 pitches Wednesday, 75 for strikes.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11, 4 -- Number of home runs and stolen bases LF Reggie Sanders needs, respectively, to become the fifth 300-300 player in history.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "At least pain is not radiating down my arm." -- RF Larry Walker, on the effects of a cortisone shot to relieve discomfort from a herniated disc in his neck.


ROTATION: 1. LHP Mark Mulder, 2. RHP Chris Carpenter, 3. RHP Jason Marquis, 4. RHP Jeff Suppan, 5. RHP Matt Morris,

BULLPEN: RHP Jason Isringhausen (closer), LHP Ray King, RHP Julian Tavarez, RHP Al Reyes, RHP Brad Thompson, RHP Cal Eldred, LHP Randy Flores

LINEUP: 1. SS David Eckstein, 2. RF Larry Walker, 3. 1B Albert Pujols, 4. CF Jim Edmonds, 5. 3B Scott Rolen, 6. LF Reggie Sanders, 7. 2B Mark Grudzielanek, 8. C Yadier Molina


OF So Taguchi, INF Abraham Nunez, C Einar Diaz, INF/OF John Mabry, C Mike Mahoney

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