Game Observations – Wed. 5/31– Cards 4-3 (11)

The St. Louis Cardinals won the pivotal match of the three-game series against the Houston Astros by a 4-3 score on Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium. The Cards won their eighth of nine rubber games and all nine home series this season as their record improved to 34-19. So Taguchi singled home the winning run in the 11th inning.

The St. Louis Cardinals won the pivotal match of the three-game series against the Houston Astros by a 4-3 score on Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium. The Cards won their eighth of nine rubber games and all nine home series this season as their record improved to 34-19.

Jeff Suppan made a typical Suppan start, allowing three runs in six innings and keeping his team in the game. Adam Wainwright and Jason Isringhausen each pitched two shutout innings and winner Braden Looper added one.

Both offenses went to sleep after the fifth inning, but the Cardinals managed only five hits even prior to that as they scratched out three runs. The game was won in the eleventh as Yadier Molina's double and So Taguchi's RBI single were the key hits.

One year ago today
On May 31, 2005, a rare Coors Field pitcher's duel resulted in a 2-1 loss for the Cards as Jason Jennings bested Mark Mulder, snapping Mulder's seven-game win streak. Mulder allowed back-to-back homers in the fourth. The Cardinals received two-hit games from Mulder, Mark Grudzielanek and Abraham Nunez.

The match-up
Jeff Suppan took on rookie Taylor Buchholz.

The line-up
Eckstein, Rodriguez (RF), Pujols, Rolen, Encarnacion (CF), Bigbie (LF), Molina, Miles and Suppan.
The major shakeup day to day is the insertion of Larry Bigbie and John Rodriguez into the outfield at the corners as Juan Encarnacion slides over to center field for his first start of the season there. He has 317 games of major league experience at the position. Scott Spiezio was still away from the team due to illness with his throat. All signals are that Jim Edmonds is headed to the disabled list with his suspected abdominal tear, again leaving La Russa with a three-man bench – Hector Luna, So Taguchi and Gary Bennett. Jason Marquis had better get ready to pinch hit.

On to the game…

Astros first – Soup's up, Cards down
Former Cardinal Orlando Palmeiro doubled into the left field corner with one out and scored easily on Lance Berkman's single to center. Morgan Ensberg singled, too, as the ball dropped in front of a deep-playing Juan. Suppan needs to get his offerings down. On a full count, Chris Burke flied out to center. I am going to scream if I have to listen to ESPN's Gary Thorne say "Ahn-car-nace-eon" all day! Astros 1-0.

Cards first – Ugly start
With one out, Rodriguez singled past a diving Craig Burke at second base. Pujols shot the ball off the second base umpire Bruce Dreckman's heel and Rodriguez made it into the bag just before the toss went from Burke to shortstop Adam Brumlett. For some reason, Rodriguez didn't slide. Thorne is wondering about whether Rolen's back is going to act up on him again, since it gave him problems last year and this. How about his shoulder? Rolen was hit on the elbow by a pitch to load the bases. Encarnacion flied out to center on the first pitch. For whatever reason, J-Rod didn't tag up. Ugh! Bigbie ended the mess by taking a called third strike.

Astros second – Pitcher hits
Buchholz singled past the first base bag with two out. The ball boy is clearly not trained, as he started to field the in-play ball before jumping out of the way. No harm done as Taveras forced Buchholz at second base.

Cards second – Nothing doing
Three ground outs.

Astros third – Astros + Umps 2, Cards 0
Palmeiro singled to center. Berkman doubled off the right field wall. Rodriguez got the ball back in quickly to hold Palmeiro at third. A pop out relieved a bit of pressure. Mike Lamb was given an intentional walk. On a ground out by Chris Burke, Lamb went several steps out of the baseline to avoid a tag by Miles before he threw the ball to first. Despite the Cardinals' protests, Lamb was not called out by Dreckman. That enabled Palmeiro to score. Astros 2-0.

Cards third – One run
Eckstein led off with a double down into the left field corner. He moved up on a Rodriguez ground out. Pujols shot a ball that was backhanded on a nice play by Burke 4-3 as the run scored. Rolen then hit a weak dribbler to second base. Astros 2-1.

Astros fourth – Keep down
A fly out and two ground outs demonstrates that Suppan may be settling down a bit.

Cards fourth – Yadi's free pass
Molina worked a two-out walk but Miles flied out to right.

Astros fifth – Holding them at bay
Berkman took a one-out walk. But, the inning ended on a 6-4-3 off the bat of Ensberg that Eckstein started defensively.

Cards fifth – Comeback
Guess who? Eckstein poked a one-out single to right. He padded his NL opposite field hit lead in the process. Rodriguez grounded out, enabling Eckstein to move up. That also led to Pujols being intentionally walked. Rolen came through with a double into the left field corner. Eckstein scored as both runners are in scoring position. Pujols had slipped rounding third, but appeared to be unhurt. Encarnacion made awful swings at two outside pitches, including strike three, but the last one eluded catcher Ausmus for a wild pitch. That enabled Juan to take first as Pujols scored and Rolen cruised into third. Buchholz must be rattled as he walked Bigbie via four straight pitches to load the bases. The Houston bullpen is scurrying into life. Molina hit a lazy fly to right. Cards 3-2.

Astros sixth – Gave the lead right back
Ausmus looped a double into the right center gap with two down. Rodriguez didn't exactly make Gold Glove play as he was unable to cut it off. Eric Bruntlett shot another two-bagger off the bullpen fence in left center as Ausmus trotted home. Duncan came out to discuss matters as Craig Biggio pinch hit. He flied out to right to end the threat. Tie 3-3.

Cards sixth – As predicted
Marquis pinch hit for Suppan with one out, but fanned swinging against the lefty Trever Miller.

Astros seventh – Two Ks for Adam
Adam Wainwright came in and immediately fanned Willy Taveras looking. With two out, the Cards are defensing Berkman with Miles in short right field, Eckstein in the second base position and Pujols hugging the line. Berkman took a strike three looking to end it.

Cards seventh –Albert and Scott BorKed
As So Taguchi was announced to hit for Rodriguez, Garner pulled Miller for a right hander, Dave Borkowski. So flied out. Pujols then fanned swinging on a pitch high and outside. Rolen whiffed, too.

Astros eighth – Staying close
So took over in center as Juan moved to right. Wainwright began his second inning by fanning Ensberg on a check swing. Lamb doubled off the wall in deepest center. So got to it as quickly as possible, keeping Lamb from taking third base. Burke flied out to left for out #2. Rolen made a nice stop on Ausmus to save a run.

Cards eighth – No fight
As it began to rain, Encarnacion grounded out 5-3. Bigbie fanned again, this time swinging on a foul tip. Molina was the easy third out.

Astros ninth – Izzy time
Jason Isringhausen came in and allowed a leadoff base hit to Brumlett. Hector Luna also came in for Bigbie. Jason Lane bunted Brumlett over. Taveras took a low strike three about which he complained in vain. Duncan came out for a mound visit. Eric Munson pinch hit, flying out to center. The rain has slowed considerably.

Cards ninth – Wheeling
Dan Wheeler pitched for Houston and retired the side in order.

Astros tenth – Izzy double time
Izzy began his inning two with a strikeout of Berkman swinging. Lamb walked with two down and Burke swung and missed on some high heat for the third out.

Cards tenth – Springing
Russ Springer was the next Astros pitcher. Thought it was not called an intentional walk, Pujols was given only one pitch to hit. The walk gave the Cards their first baserunner since the fifth inning. Rolen grounded into a force out at second. Encarnacion took a called strike three to the inning.

Astros eleventh – Looper on
After working two innings Tuesday night, Braden Looper was called on to pitch. Ausmus fanned as a highlight in the 1-2-3 inning.

Cards eleventh – Game, set and match
Looper hit for himself against Mike Gallo, as Gary Bennett is the last remaining bench player. Molina doubled to left center as Berkman's sore knee was evident as he couldn't bend over to get the ball off the wet grass. If it had been anyone other than Molina, the runner would have been on third. Ensberg made a diving stop on Miles' grounder, holding Molina at second while Miles reached. Luna lined out to third for the second out. Eckstein took a pitch on the left wrist and fell to the ground in pain. Trainer Barry Weinberg walked all the way to first base with him, but Eckstein remained in the game. So Taguchi hit with two outs and the bases loaded. So stroked the second offering he saw up the middle for the game and series-winning RBI and was mobbed by his teammates. Let's hope Eckstein is ok. Cards 4-3.

Upcoming action – probable starters (times CDT)
Thursday: Off day
Friday vs. Cubs: Sidney Ponson vs. Sean Marshall 7:10 p.m. FSNM
Saturday vs. Cubs: Mark Mulder vs. Glendon Rusch 3:05 p.m. Big Fox
Sunday vs. Cubs: Jason Marquis vs. Kerry Wood 1:15 p.m. WB11
Monday vs. Reds: Jeff Suppan vs. Brandon Claussen 7:10 p.m. FSNM
Tuesday vs. Reds: Chris Carpenter vs. Eric Milton 7:10 p.m. FSNM
Wed. vs. Reds: Sidney Ponson vs. Aaron Harang 7:10 p.m. FSNM

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

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