Game Observations – Sunday – Cards 8-7

On Sunday afternoon at Busch, the Cardinals defeated the Cincinnati Reds by an 8-7 score in the rubber match of the three-game weekend series. Albert Pujols hit three home runs and drove in five.

At the new Busch Stadium, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Cincinnati Reds by an 8-7 mark on Sunday afternoon in a game that featured seven home runs.

The last one was the loudest as Albert Pujols overcame another leaky bullpen performance by hitting a walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth for the comeback victory in the game of the year so far in the still-young 2006 season. Pujols drove in five runs via three homers and leads the league with eight round-trippers.

John Rodriguez hit an important two-run triple, but also committed a fielding error. Yadier Molina and David Eckstein each contributed two hits. Juan Encarnacion made a dreadful fielding error that almost cost his team the game. Jason Marquis had a key pinch hit. Mark Mulder struggled through five innings while Braden Looper collected both a blown save and a win – the day in a nutshell.

Buehrle for Mulder?
Seems like players almost never get to play for their favorite team when growing up. White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle's love for the Cardinals is well-documented. During Sunday's broadcast, Wayne Hagin reminded us that Mark Mulder was bred a White Sox fan, going to games at Comiskey Park with his father in his youth. What about a swap of the two lefties? Won't happen, but it would be kind of neat.

We're fuel for Izzy
Rick Horton shared the fact that Jason Isringhausen admits that he reads what is written about him on the internet and uses it as "fuel" – motivation to do better.

The match-up
Going for his 99th career win, Mark Mulder opposed former Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo.

The line-up
Eckstein, Miles, Pujols, Rolen, Rodriguez, Spiezio, Molina, Schumaker and Mulder. Jim Edmonds takes a second consecutive day off, with So Taguchi yielding to Scott Spiezio, who received his first start – in left field! John Rodriguez returned to take over for Juan Encarnacion in right. Aaron Miles came back in for Hector Luna and slipped into the #2 spot.

On to the game…

Reds first – Hits and misses
The odd outfield alignment was immediately exposed as Schumaker did not cut off Ryan Freel's liner to right-center. It ended up as a double, but it also could have been scored a single and an error. In between a pair of strikeouts by Mulder, Rich Aurilia singled to left to put runners on the corners. Austin Kearns' full-count single to left scored the first run. Reds 1-0.

Cards first – Rodriguez makes presence known
Eckstein started the game right with a single to … right. Miles moved him up before Pujols walked yet again. Rolen whiffed swinging, but Rodriguez tripled into the right field corner to score two. I could hear thousands of "I told you sos" being spoken simultaneously across the Cardinal Nation. Cards 2-1.

Reds second – Three whiffs
Catcher Dave Ross singled to right with one out in between a pair of strikeouts, including Arroyo bunting foul for strike three. Freel also was called out looking to end it.

Cards second – Threat without a hit
Schumaker drew a one-out walk. Mulder fanned, but Schumaker was able to steal second base in the process. Eckstein walked to present an opportunity for the new #2 man Miles. Arroyo bounced a pitch home off the plate that allowed both runners to move into scoring position. Unfortunately, a 4-3 ended it.

Reds third – RISP stranded
Aurilia doubled past Rolen into the left field corner with one out. Molina tagged out Dunn after his swing deposited the ball a few inches in front of home plate. Kearns grounded out for the third out.

Reds fourth – One hit, one hit pitcher
Mulder took a one-hopper off the right knee off the bat of Brandon Phillips before throwing him out. Ross stroked a ball to right for a two-out single on the next pitch, but was stranded.

Cards fourth – A Redbird hit is it
Following a Spiezio strikeout, Molina singled down the right field line for just the third Cards hit of the day. Schumaker flied out to center before Mulder ground out on the first pitch he saw.

Reds fifth – Late Reds BP
Miles made a nice backhand stop and throw to retire the speedy Freel leading off. Lopez singled on the next pitch, but Rodriguez fell down, allowing Lopez to take the extra base. J-Rod was correctly given an error. The rest of the Cards fans who didn't say "I told you so" before about Rodriguez did that now. Dunn went to a full count on Mulder before he powered the ball into the left-center field seats for two runs. Kearns did the same thing for back-to-back jacks. That brought Duncan out for a visit. Didn't help, as Edwin Encarnacion laced the Reds' tenth hit for a single to left. Mulder's 99th pitch of the afternoon was a liner by Phillips to left that held up for Spiezio to haul in. Reds 4-2.

Cards fifth – Cards go B2B for three, too
Miles hit a ball to deep short. Lopez made a nice diving stop, but made a bad decision to go to first, allowing Miles to move up as the throw was far wide of the bag. Pujols tied the game, as he slammed an off-speed pitch off the left field foul pole. It was Pujols' sixth long ball of the season, but not his first curtain call. Rolen followed with his own blast to left. It is encouraging to see the Cardinals answer the Reds runs every time. The two stars then disappeared down the dugout stairs together, ostensibly to look at the video replay. Cards 5-4.

Reds sixth – Wholesale defensive changes
With the lead and a win in line for Mulder, Brad Thompson took the mound. So Taguchi came in for Spiezio in a patented La Russa double switch. Juan Encarnacion also came in for Rodriguez in right. Pujols made a nice stop on a shot off the bat of pinch-hitter Tony Womack. Freel drew a two-out walk. Thompson fanned Lopez swinging to end the inning.

Cards sixth – White efficient
Former Cardinal reliever Rick White took over for the Reds and secured three outs with four pitches.

Reds seventh – Rolen's "D"lightful
Adam Wainwright got the call from the Cards' pen. Rolen made the first out, cutting in front of Eckstein, making a perfect throw for the first out on Aurilia. Dunn and Encarnacion each drew four-pitch walks as Wainwright seems to have lost the zone. Sadly, the Busch crowd started the wave as Randy Flores warmed up. But, Phillips lined out to Taguchi for the third out.

Cards seventh – Pujols creates breathing room
Eckstein singled past the diving second baseman for a leadoff safety, but Miles grounded into a garden-variety 6-4-3. Pujols then curled another home run around the left field foul pole, tying Dunn for the NL home run lead at seven. Another curtain call followed, of course. Cards 6-4.

Reds eighth – Four mistakes = possible loss
"This guy can flat out pinch hit," said Wayne Hagin in his introduction of Quinton McCracken. "Q" followed through with a blast onto the grass berm in dead center. When the pinch-hitter, switch-hitting Javier Valentin was announced, Wainwright departed for Randy Flores. Braden Looper began to get ready. Freel walked. On a sure inning-ending double play fly ball with Freel caught far off the bag at first, Encarnacion unexplainably dropped the ball. Another pitching change and another double switch, with Hector Luna and Looper coming into the game. Aurilia greeted Looper with a liner that went over Encarnacion to the wall in right-center, scoring two runs. The booing was audible. Dunn took an intentional free pass before Kearns fanned and Edwin Encarnacion flied out to Schumaker. Reds 7-6.

Cards eighth – Not hitting on all cylinders
Todd Coffey was asked to hold the lead. Juan Encarnacion barely legged out an infield single to deep short, but was thrown out on a failed hit-and-run with Hector Luna unable to put bat on ball. Luna followed with a single over second base. Molina doubled Luna up to third, as Oquendo put the stop sign out for Luna. Schumaker took an intentional walk to load the bases with one out and So Taguchi stepping in. He popped out, leaving Eckstein as the two-out hope. But, Eckstein hit a lazy, first-pitch fly to center to end it.

Reds ninth – No more damage
Looper took care of three enemy hitters.

Cards ninth – Marquis and Albert end it
With Jim Edmonds unavailable due to a cortisone shot in his shoulder and Gary Bennett the only bench player remaining, Jason Marquis was called on to pinch hit. He promptly singled up the middle off David Weathers. In stepped Pujols. His third home run of the game again looped around that left field foul pole into the under-construction seats. Pujols leapt for joy on the way to first, sprinted around the bases, and then made a series of little hops as he came home for a huge celebration. What a finish! Cards 8-7.

Upcoming action (times CDT)
Monday at Pirates: Jason Marquis vs. Paul Maholm 6:05pm FSNM
Tuesday at Pirates: Jeff Suppan vs. Oliver Perez 6:05pm FSNM
Wednesday at Pirates: Chris Carpenter vs. Victor Santos 11:35am FSNM
Thursday: Open day

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

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