Walton's Observations – Thursday – Cards 6-1

Jeff Suppan and the Cardinals handled the Chicago Cubs by a 6-1 mark Thursday evening in a game that was eventually called due to rain with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Chicago Cubs by a 6-1 score at Wrigley Field Thursday night. The Cardinals' best record in baseball is now 94-54 as they won the first of the four-game weekend series.

Jeff Suppan took on Cubs ace Mark Prior. Until the ninth, the Cubs had only one runner past second base all night as Suppan came only two outs short of his first complete game as a Cardinal. He allowed just six hits and one run in eight-plus innings. Suppan fanned seven and walked only one.

Prior was gone after five, making Roger Clemens look like a complete-game pitcher. The offense got to him early, with three runs in the first. Albert Pujols, Larry Walker and Yadier Molina each had two hits. Walker and John Rodriguez each had a pair of RBI and Abraham Nunez added another. Pujols and David Eckstein both scored twice.

Technically, the Cardinals have clinched, as their magic number is one. However, just as in 2004, Tony La Russa wants to wait and celebrate until the number is zero. As a result, the team will wait for one more win (or Houston loss) before celebrating.

Unearned runs a bugaboo
While we celebrate the success of the starting staff this season, it is worth noting that the Cards have surrendered the second highest number of unearned runs in the league – 69. In comparison, the Cubs maligned staff and patchwork defense have allowed half – 35.

Thursday's lineup
Eckstein, Edmonds, Pujols, Walker, Rodriguez (lf), Nunez, Molina, Luna (2b) and Suppan. Mark Grudzielanek sat after playing one game since his back injury. Larry Walker returned after missing three straight games. Albert Pujols returned after a couple of games out as he nursed his sore upper right leg. Jim Edmonds took a break.

On to the game…

Cards first – First blood drawn
Eckstein kept fouling off pitches until finally singling to shallow right field. Pujols singled with one out. Walker hit a ball over the left fielder's head for a double. Pujols tried to run through Oquendo's stop sign and was almost tackled by Jose trying to make him stop. The throw almost got Pujols at third. Not smart baserunning, IMHO. J-Rod hit the ball to the right side to score Albert. Nunez came through again, bouncing a ball off the plate and over the mound as Walker scored. Cards 3-0.

Cubs first – A runner
Nunez took a tough error on a Derrek Lee shot into his body for a one-out error. Lee reached second, but was stranded. (Later in the game, the scorer reversed the call and got it right.)

Cubs second – Another runner
Neifi Perez singled with two out, but that was it.

Cards third – Two on, no more in
Edmonds walked leading off. Pujols missed a two-run home run when the wind knocked down his high fly in center. Walker stroked a line-drive single. That was all. Glad the boys got those three runs early.

Cubs third – Yet another runner
Todd Walker singled with two out. He was forced out to end the inning. Suppan has yet to retire the Cubs in order.

Cards fourth – Doubled up
Molina singled to right leading off. As Luna fanned, Molina was thrown out trying to take second.

Cubs fifth – No more Prior
Prior was pinch-hit for with two outs.

Cards sixth – Baserunner for an instant
J-Rod walked with one out. One pitch to Nunez later, a double play ended the inning.

Cubs sixth – In a groove
Suppan fanned the #1 and #2 hitters – Hairston and Walker.

Cards eighth – Putting the exclamation point on it
Eckstein and Edmonds walked, causing a pitching change from Rich Hill to Todd Wellemeyer. Pujols loaded the bases as his high fly dropped in short center. Still no out. Walker was happy to walk and force in a run. J-Rod's sac fly scored Edmonds. Molina's infield chopper scored Pujols as Todd Walker's throw was wild at second. Cards 6-0.

Cubs eighth – Mini threat is too late
Perez singled leading off. He was forced out at second by Macias. Hairston singled to put two on and Macias moved up to third on a wild pitch. But, Todd Walker fanned looking.

Cards ninth – Soup hits, too
Suppan led off with a single. That was it.

Cubs ninth – Playing in the rain
With one out, Lee hit a ball out to Waveland Avenue and off a bus to end the game for Suppan and blow his shutout. Al Reyes got the call. As Nomar popped out, Schumaker ran into Eckstein, but neither seemed hurt. The light rain that began earlier is getting harder. Burnitz singled and Perez walked. Molina dropped a foul ball for an error as the rain and wind inhibited him getting Henry Blanco's ball. Eckstein fell down as Blanco reached on a simple grounder. The umps stopped the game with two outs and the bases loaded. Cards 6-1.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Friday @ Cubs: Matt Morris vs. Glendon Rusch 2:20pm WB11
Saturday @ Cubs: Mark Mulder vs. Greg Maddux 12:15pm Big Fox
Sunday @ Cubs: Chris Carpenter vs. Carlos Zambrano 1:20pm WB11
Monday: Open day
Tuesday @ Reds: Jeff Suppan vs. Randy Keisler 6:10pm FSNM
Wednesday @ Reds: Jason Marquis vs. Ramon Ortiz 6:10pm FSNM
Thursday @ Reds: Matt Morris vs. Brandon Claussen 6:10pm FSNM

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

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