THE INSIDE PITCH
Busch Stadium No. 3 opened on Monday with an assortment of
business-as-usual and a surprise that bordered on shock.
First baseman Albert Pujols, the reigning Most Valuable Player,
popped the first Cardinals first home run in the $365 million yard. But the
second Cardinals homer came off the bat of pitcher Mark Mulder, who
never had hit a homer or had a two-hit game.
Mulder not only hit a two-run homer off Milwaukee right-hander
Capellan in the seventh, he cracked a double off right-hander Rick
Helling in the fifth.
The left-hander, who had spit up a two-run lead in his first
when he allowed a game-tying home run to Philadelphia third baseman
David Bell, was strong for eight innings, throwing just 97 pitches and
blanking the Brewers after the second inning.
Before it was over, though, the Cardinals had some more bullpen
malfunctions. Right-hander Braden Looper got a double play on the first
hitter he faced in the ninth, but then Looper, who had struggled in spring
training, allowed a double and a single before closer Jason
Isringhausen came in.
Isringhausen, who allowed a grand slam to Chicago catcher
Barrett to lose Sunday night's game, allowed a hit and a walk before
closing this one out.
REPLAY: Third baseman Scott Rolen continued his hot early season
hitting, doubling in two runs to break a 2-2 tie in the fourth as the
Cardinals won their first game in the new Busch Stadium, 6-4 over
Rolen has nine runs batted in for 27 at-bats.
As important as Rolen's hit was, though, a sacrifice bunt by
fielder Juan Encarnacion, who has done little offensively, moved the
runners into scoring position in the fourth. Albert Pujols was walked
intentionally and Jim Edmonds struck out before Rolen delivered.
--RF Juan Encarnacion was the first Cardinal to reach base in
new park. He was hit by a pitch in the first inning.
--SS David Eckstein, who had been batting only .200, got two hits.
--LHP Mark Mulder reached base all four times he was up. He
into a forceout, walked, doubled and homered.
--Though 3B Scott Rolen has nine RBIs in his first seven games,
is behind his pace of 2004, when he had 13 in his first seven games, on
his way to 124 for the year.
--The sun played a factor for the outfielders in the late
start, and the hitters had trouble seeing the ball at the plate when
the shadows came over the field.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Number of hitters
Cardinals pitchers walked in
the first four games of the season. They were also well ahead of the
other 29 teams in spring training in this category.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He made a very intelligent
choice to go out and get
the rust off." -- Manager Tony La Russa, on 2B Junior Spivey's
acceptance of an assignment to Triple-A Memphis after he hit .147 this spring.
The Cardinals made it through spring training with no major
problems other than outfielder Larry Bigbie, who has been sidelined with
a stress fracture in his left foot. The player bearing the most
scrutiny in that regard was 3B Scott Rolen, who reported little or no
discomfort with his left shoulder, which required two surgeries last season,
costing him more than half the year.
The Cardinals had the luxury of having seven potential starters
they have right-handed hopefuls Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright
waiting in the wings. Take a good look at the starting five, though. All but
Carpenter are eligible to be free agents at the end of the season and
the Cardinals probably will be able to bring just two of them back.
The Cardinals had four spots to fill from last year's bullpen
remained to be seen still how well they had done that. Looper, the
acknowledged setup man, started camp roughly and ended it poorly after
pitching well in the middle. RHPs Julian Tavarez, Al Reyes, Cal Eldred and
LHP Ray King will be missed. The bullpen will be comprised of five
right-handers and two left-handers. Isringhausen still is among the top
closers in the game.
Manager Tony La Russa still hadn't settled on a No. 2 hitter as
wound down. Encarnacion, a run producer, might even wind up there
because La Russa, going back even to his days with the Chicago White Sox and
Oakland Athletics, likes power from that spot.
Pujols, who won the Most Valuable Player award anyway, should
more protection this year from Edmonds, trying to rebound from an off
year, and Rolen, who had a wasted year because of left shoulder problems.
La Russa likes versatility on his bench and that's where the
switch-hitting Spiezio, who plays three positions, comes in. Rodriguez
provides left-handed power off the bench.
Bennett will catch very little if young Yadier Molina stays
ROOKIE WATCH: OF Skip Schumaker made huge
strides this spring,
showing he can hit enough to stay in the big leagues as an extra outfielder.
His speed and defense were givens. RHP Anthony Reyes will be in the
rotation at some point in the season, but not just yet as the Cardinals go
through the whole process with veteran RHP Sidney Ponson.
MEDICAL WATCH: 3B Scott Rolen has had no
problems with his left
shoulder that required two surgeries last season. OF Larry Bigbie (stress
fracture in left foot) probably won't rejoin the big club until May. LHP
Randy Flores, who had elbow surgery to remove bone chips, displayed no
ill effects, nor did RHP Braden Looper, who had offseason shoulder