Walton's Game Notes/Interviews – Sun. – Cards 6-0

Despite Albert Pujols' ejection, the bullpen led the way Sunday afternoon, as the Cardinals defeated the Washington Nationals by a 6-0 score.

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Washington Nationals by a 6-0 score at RFK Stadium Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals' best record in baseball is now 83-48 as they took two of the three-game weekend series and reached a new season high-water mark at 35 games over .500.

Emergency starter Cal Eldred, subbing for Mark Mulder, took on new National, veteran John Halama, who was subbing for an injured Tony Armas, Jr. Got all that? Eldred and Brad Thompson were fantastic, holding the Nats to just three hits total in three innings each. Julian Tavarez, Al Reyes and Ray King maintained the shut out.

David Eckstein doubled twice and scored both times. Abraham Nunez' two-run single iced the game. Yadier Molina scored twice as six of the starters collected at least one of the eight Cardinals' hits.

Where's my bat?
I was reading the line-up card at about 10:45am Sunday when Cal Eldred, the emergency starter walked up and verified his name was written in. About that point, he must have realized that he needed to hit during the game. Eldred has one at-bat this season and eight in his three-year Cardinals career. Albert unzipped his bat bag and offered Cal a Rawlings model and a black San Bat, which he identified as much harder (maple). Eldred thanked him and walked away with one in each hand. For the record, Eldred came into the game 8-for-71 (.113) at the plate in his career. He went 0-for-1 with a strikeout during the game, but who cares?

Eldred's family there
In a great coincidence, Cal Eldred's father-in-law and other family members were in attendance at Sunday's game to see him make his first start since 2001.

Iron Mike popular
Pre-game television watching in the clubhouse was more popular than usual as an ESPN Classic recap of some of Mike Tyson's signature fights was on the big screen. Mulder was also watching as he rode the exercise bike.

Shannon and the General
For the pre-game meal in the dining room, I sat down with Mike Shannon. He introduced me to his friend and Cardinals fan, Three-Star General Buster Hagenbeck. Shannon and La Russa received a tour of the Pentagon on Friday, courtesy of the General. On Saturday night, La Russa, Shannon and Walt Jocketty were among Hagenbeck's dinner guests. The next day, the General was still talking about some of Shannon's amusing stories. One of Hagenbeck's friends is a lawyer from Connecticut who apparently relished matching wits with Counselor La Russa. Sounds like a good time was had by all.

Helping WB11
I ran into WB11's Rick Horton during the fourth inning. He mentioned that he wanted to know if Pujols had ever been ejected before. I found the answer and give it to him. In return, he plugged us on the broadcast. Pretty fair trade. The answer is that Albert was tossed on May 24, 2005 in the sixth inning vs. Pittsburgh for arguing a called third strike.

Poncino no stranger to controversy
First base ump Larry Poncino, who was involved in the Pujols ejection, was also the center of controversy last week when he tossed Mariners pitcher Clint Nageotte for throwing one pitch. It went over the head of Minnesota's Lew Ford in a contentious contest on the 22nd. Poncino was also part of the crew in the famous Jerry Crawford "leaning game". On September 13, 2003, both catcher Mike Matheny and pitching coach Dave Duncan were ejected after Matheny accused Crawford of pushing him forward while calling balls and strikes. Crawford's unique umpiring style is that he leans in to the catcher, actually grabbing the catcher's jersey when the pitch comes in. The incident caused Tony La Russa to erupt, accusing Crawford of having a long-time vendetta against the Redbirds.

Another odd coincidence
Pujols was ejected then suspended for two games in 2003 for punching the San Diego Padres catcher in the face. It happened after Albert was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat after admiring a long home run too long for the Pads liking. Oddly enough, that same catcher was behind the plate for Washington on Sunday, Gary Bennett.

Sunday's lineup
Eckstein, Edmonds, Pujols, Molina, Taguchi (lf), Grudzielanek, Nunez, Luna (rf) and Eldred. Grudzielanek made his first appearance since the 20th.

On to the game…

Cards first – Albert boils over
With two out, Albert singled past the pitcher and the diving second baseman. He was caught taking off for second base. Halama threw to the first baseman who fired it to second to tag out the sliding Pujols. Albert complained to the second base umpire to no avail. I am guessing it might have been because replays showed his slide evaded the tag. The argument started with second base ump Paul Nauert and continued between innings. Pujols was ejected from the game as the debate continued with first base ump Larry Poncino. About that time, Tony La Russa ran out. The start of the home first was delayed by several minutes as the arguing continued. Jose Oquendo emerged from the dugout and escorted Albert to the bench as La Russa remained at first base to continue the debate. Einar Diaz replaced Albert in the field.

Nats second – A baserunner
Vinny Castilla drew a two-out walk. A fielders' choice at second ended it.

Cards third – A threat
Luna singled with one out as Eldred came to the plate with Albert's Rawlings bat. He tried to bunt and failed. Eckstein worked Halama over, as he threw over to first frequently to keep Molina close. Vinny Castilla at third mishandled an Eckstein grounder as both runners were safe. No more happened, though.

Nats third – Look out
Leading off, Guzman shot a bouncer up the middle that hit Eldred. Fortunately, the ricochet went to Eckstein who just made the throw to first in time.

Cards fourth – Thompson terrific
Consecutive leadoff singles by Jamey Carroll and Nick Johnson signaled that Eldred may be out of gas. Duncan came out to make the change to Brad Thompson. Thompson was brilliant, getting a force out and a double play to escape unscathed.

Nats fifth – Collision
With two out, Grudz and Diaz collided trying to field a ball, enabling Cristian Guzman to reach on an infield single. Neither seemed hurt. Halama was retired for the third out.

Cards sixth – Little bit of everything
Eckstein doubled into the left field gap over a jogging Brad Wilkerson. Wilkerson didn't even put up his hands and seemed to slow when nearing the ball. Edmonds walked, ending Halama's day. Hector Carrasco took over and walked pinch-hitter John Rodriguez to load the bases. Chants of "Let's go, Cardinals" were audible in the crowd. Molina's grounder to short looked to be a double play, but J-Rod's hard slide into the relay man led to a high throw to first. Johnson had to jump for it as the heavy-legged catcher crossed the bag before he landed. Eckstein scored. When Molina surprised everyone by taking off for second, the catcher made a clean throw, but the second baseman Carroll cut the ball off and tried to nail Edmonds coming home. He bounced the throw as Edmonds slid hard into the catcher, Gary Bennett. Molina took third as the ball got away. Edmonds was banged up on the play and had to be helped off the field by Barry Weinberg. It was scored a double steal and an error on Carroll. Taguchi hit a ball off the pitcher and legged it out as Molina scored the third run, which was unearned. Cards 3-0.

Nats sixth – Defensive changes
Seabol came into the game at first, as J-Rod took over in left and Taguchi moved to center for the shaken up Edmonds.

Nats seventh – Tavarez time
Thompson ended his three innings with only one hit allowed. Julian Tavarez took over and had a 1-2-3 inning. Suspect he'll be asked to go two.

Cards eighth – Breaking it open
Leading off against Mike Stanton, Eckstein shot another double to left. With one down, J-Rod singled him home to some scattered boos by the Nats' fans. Molina singled to left. On a 3-2 count, another double steal occurred as So fanned, perhaps trying to protect them, as well as himself. Grudz was walked intentionally. Nunez came up with the bases loaded and against a new pitcher, Jason Bergman. His single to center scored two more to ice the game and send many toward the exits. Cards 6-0.

Nats eighth – Nothing
Al Reyes took over and also got his men.

Nats ninth – King makes it a bit interesting
Ray King started the ninth. Brad Wilkerson singled leading off and Jamey Carroll walked. That got Izzy up in the pen. But, Nick Johnson ground into a 4-6-3 that pretty much sucked out all the life left in the Nats.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Monday @ Marlins: Chris Carpenter vs. A.J. Burnett 6:05pm FSNM
Tuesday @ Marlins: Matt Morris vs. Ismael Valdez 6:05pm FSNM
Wednesday @ Marlins: Jeff Suppan vs. Jason Vargas 6:05pm FSNM
Thursday: Open date
Friday @ Astros: Mark Mulder(?) vs. Roger Clemens 7:05pm FSNM
Saturday @ Astros: Jason Marquis(?) vs. Wandy Rodriguez 6:05pm WB11
Sunday @ Astros: Chris Carpenter vs. Ezequiel Astacio 2:05pm WB11

Audio post-game interviews

Tony La Russa:

Cal Eldred:

Jim Edmonds:

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

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