Walton's Game Observations – Friday – Cards 11-3

The NL Central-leading Cardinals spanked the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves 11-3 Friday night.

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Braves by an 11-3 score in front of 47,838 at sold-out Busch Stadium Friday night. The Cardinals' record is now 69-40 as they took the first of the three-game weekend series.

Mark Mulder faced Braves' ace John Smoltz (NL Cy Young – 1996 and NL Rolaids Reliever of the Year – 2002). On this night, Mulder was the better of the two, as he allowed just one run on seven hits in seven innings and won his 13th game of the season. In fact, Mulder has allowed two runs or less in each of his last six starts and hasn't lost since June 22, nine starts ago.

The Cards hitters really came alive, especially in the later going. Albert Pujols' hit a two run homer. Jim Edmonds hit a solo shot and Abraham Nunez plated two to cement the win and finish off Smoltz in the sixth. So Taguchi shone with a home run among his two hits and he collected three RBI.

Marlins inspired by Harris
After Wednesday's loss to the Cardinals, the Marlins' Lenny Harris, MLB's career pinch-hit leader, went on a postgame tirade where he told teammates to ''to stop feeling sorry for ourselves'' and "stop disrespecting each other.'' ''I was just trying to tell them let's not get into those losing ways,'' Harris said. "We've worked too hard to get to where we're at,'' he told the Miami Herald. Not sure if A.J. Burnett needed the inspiration, but the Marlins did salvage a split Thursday night.

Training room update - Walker
Three hours before the game, Larry Walker's neck was iced down with a contraption that looked like a high-riding papoose. Bandages ran underneath both armpits and up over his shoulders. But, he was able to dress and do some warm-ups. He is not yet taking batting practice, however.

Training room update - Molina
Yadier Molina was walking around the clubhouse with no bandages on his hand. However, there is no new news on his 1.5-3 week return estimate. Even if there was, I am not sure I would know whether to double it, triple it or ignore it.

Training room update - Rolen
Who says La Russa isn't a communicator? Scott Rolen, with his left shoulder wrapped in a huge bandage, stopped in La Russa's office before the game and stayed at least 30 minutes, never sitting down.

Where are they now? – Kurt Kepshire
There was a nervous woman with two small children in the dugout before the game. Turns out it was Darlene Kepshire, wife of the former Cardinal pitcher (1984-86). We struck up a conversation and I snapped a family photo as Kurt joined them. Kepshire's young son and daughter had so many Cardinals' player autographs on their caps that some were unintelligible. Now that his kids are of school age, Kepshire is looking at getting into coaching in the Cardinals organization. He expressed regret that his Cardinals days ended with some disagreement, but hopes time has healed any potential bad feelings.

White Rat sighting
As expected, former manager Whitey Herzog pulled down #24 from the Countdown Clock after the fifth inning. He looked great!

Pregame routine
Friday's plan:
Stretching – pitchers 4:30
Stretching – players 4:45
Batting practice – 4;45 starters
Batting practice – 4:55 Diaz, Mahoney, Rodriguez
Batting practice - 5:10 Eckstein, Grud, Edmonds
Batting practice – 5:20 Pujols, Taguchi, Nunez
Batting practice – 5:30 Gall, Luna, Seabol

AFL contingent confirmed
The five Cardinals players we reported here as AFL-bound were unofficially confirmed by a team official: Haerther, Hansen, Johnson, Lambert and Doyne. The name of player #6 has not yet been determined. However, the official said that at this point, only the first two players mentioned are fully committed. The others could change between now and season's end based on amount of innings pitched the rest of the way, health, etc. Also, the Cards are against using the Taxi Squad (AFL seventh player who can only suit up on Wednesdays and Saturdays). The reason is lack of playing time. When I mentioned Reid Gorecki's success last season, the comeback was that John Gall was sent previously, but didn't play. I thought about countering with the fact that Pop Warner is the manager this year, but decided to let it go.

Braves short at third, too
The Braves missed their star third baseman, also, as Chipper Jones is having problems with his right shoulder. Wilson Betemit replaced him in the lineup Friday night.

Friday's lineup
Eckstein, Rodriguez (lf), Pujols, Edmonds, Grudz, Nunez, Taguchi (rf), Diaz and Mulder. Mark Grudzielanek returned from a night off.

On to the game…

Braves first – Dodging trouble
Marcus Giles legged out an infield single and Eckstein's throw eluded Albert. A 6-4-3 fixed that problem. Jeff Francoeur slammed a first-pitch ground rule double to left. The guy never walks. Why give him a pitch to hit? So made a nice running catch to end the inning.

Cards first – First for Albert; Two for Redbirds
With one down, J-Rod singled to right. Pujols turned his first pitch seen into his 30th homer on a bee line into the box seats into left as the crowd erupted. AP is the first player in the history of the game to hit 30 home runs in his first five seasons. Cards 2-0.

Braves second – RISP held there
Leading off, Kelly Johnson walked and took second on a sacrifice from Mulder to Pujols. A passed ball by Diaz put Johnson at third with two out. But, Marcus Giles flied out to center for out #3.

Braves fourth – Broken through
Francoeur led off with a single to left and Andruw Jones must have taken some of whatever Edmonds has been drinking as he bunted for a base hit to third. A 6-4-3 off the bat of Julio Franco was only good for the first out, as Jones upended Grudz making the turn. As a result, his throw sailed on Pujols. Grudz picked himself from being face down in the dirt and seemed ok. Wilson Betemit singled up the middle for the first RBI. A 1-4-3 double play off the bat of Johnny Estrada ended it without additional damage. Cards 2-1.

Cards fourth – Back up by two
With one out, Edmonds slammed a 1-2 pitch up into the right field seats. The line drive was powered by his wrists as his body didn't even get into the swing. Impressive! Grudz followed with a single but was caught trying to steal. Nunez fanned on the next pitch. Cards 3-1.

Braves sixth – Not a problem
Giles singled past a diving Eckstein leading off. He didn't advance further.

Cards sixth – Big hit by Nunez
Eckstein shot a lead off double into the left field corner. J-Rod could neither bunt him over nor put real wood on the ball as he weakly popped out to short. Pujols was intentionally walked. A wild pitch that looked more like a passed ball meant that with first base open, Edmonds was given a free pass, also, to load the bases. Grudz was out in front, swinging and missing on strikes two and three. Nunez singled to left center scoring two runs. The fact he was thrown out trying to take second should be academic. Cards 5-1.

Braves seventh – Smoke, but no fire
Betemit singled leading off. Kelly Johnson walked with one down. Adam LaRoche hit for Smoltz. Both he and Furcal were retired to end the threat.

Cards seventh – Pulling away
So homered to left on the first pitch by Jim Brower. Mabry hit for Mulder, with Tavarez warming up. With two down, Eckstein was hit by a pitch. Cards 6-1.

Braves eighth – Tavarez time tenuous
Julian Tavarez retired the 2-3 hitters before walking Andruw Jones. He was replaced on the bases by Ryan Langerhans. Julio Franco reached on a nubber down the third base line. But, on pitch #22 of the inning, Tavarez fanned Wilson Betemit swinging.

Cards eighth – Roof caves in
Macay McBride took the mound for the Braves. Pujols drew a leadoff walk. Edmonds fanned swinging before Grudz singled to right. So iced the cake with a two run single. Einar Diaz' single scored one, too. Scott Seabol brought home yet another on a sac fly to the warning track in left. Eckstein singled to center to load the bases with two out. Danny Kolb came in to try to stop the bleeding. A Furcal throwing error scored another and extended the agony for the tomahawk choppers before Albert's fly died on the warning track. Cards 11-1.

Braves ninth – It's over
Seabol stayed in at second base and Luna went to right. Randy Flores was asked to finish up and almost did. Pete Orr and Rafael Furcal reached with two out. Playing center, So raced back to the wall to catch Giles's shot, but missed. It was generously scored a two-run double. Cal Eldred collected the final out. Cards 11-3.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Saturday vs. Braves: Jason Marquis vs. Tim Hudson 12:15pm Big Fox
Sunday vs. Braves: Chris Carpenter vs. Jorge Sosa 1:15pm KPLR

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

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