Game Observations – Thu. 7/6 – Astros 4-2

On Thursday night, the St. Louis Cardinals lost the first of their four-game road series against the Houston Astros, 4-2. The Cards have lost 12 of their last 15. Their 45-39 record kept them two games ahead of the also-losing Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central Division. But, Milwaukee is just 2-1/2 back and Houston 3-1/2. Yadier Molina left the game with a mild concussion.

Sidney Ponson managed to avoid major trouble except in the fourth, when an Aaron Miles error allowed two unearned runs to score. Ponson pitched into the seventh inning, having allowed four hits and four walks. Only one of his three runs allowed was earned. Josh Kinney did a fine job getting out of the seventh with two on and none out, but the Astros tacked one more on against Adam Wainwright in the eighth.

The offense managed just six hits. Two of them came from Jim Edmonds, who collected two RBI on a home run. Albert Pujols was intentionally walked twice and singled. Scott Rolen and John Rodriguez doubled. On the other side of the coin, Chris Duncan was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and the Cards had runners thrown out at second base and third.

One year ago today
On July 6, 2005, the Cardinals won a pitching duel against Arizona, 2-1. Chris Carpenter went eight innings to gain his 13th win of the season. He allowed just three hits and one run with seven strikeouts. The Cardinals offense also managed just three hits against D'backs starter Javier Vazquez, who threw a complete game. Jim Edmonds hit a solo home run and a single. Yadier Molina doubled in the ninth and pinch-runner So Taguchi was sacrificed to third and scored on a squeeze bunt by David Eckstein.

ESPN's Gary Thorne is a good enough broadcaster – except for his butchering of the Cardinals outfielder's last name over and over and over. That and Sidney "Pahn-sahn" are enough to drive me up a wall.

The match-up
Sidney Ponson vs. rookie Taylor Buchholz.

The line-up
Eckstein, Duncan (LF), Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, Encarnacion, Molina, Miles and Ponson.
Back in: Chris Duncan and Aaron Miles. Out: So Taguchi and Hector Luna. Tony La Russa returned to his right-handed line-up from two and three games ago.

On to the game…

Cards first – Burned
Pujols ended a 1-2-3 inning with a rope right at Morgan Ensberg at third.

Astros first – Blast
Mike Lamb hit a line drive home run to right with one down. Astros 1-0.

Cards second – Chance taken
Rolen mashed a ball to deep left center for a lead-off double. He tried to take third on a fly to right by Edmonds, but Berkman threw him out.

Astros second – Two-out RISP
Preston Wilson took a lead-off walk. He moved up on a grounder for the second out and took third on a wild pitch. Adam Everett stranded him there with a fly out to center.

Cards third – Molina injured
Leading off, Molina was hit on the back of the head with a hard curveball. After getting checked out, he stayed in the game for just two pitches more. Trainer Barry Weinberg removed him so he can get checked out as Gary Bennett took over at first. Aaron Miles' fielders' choice grounder took Bennett out. Miles took second on a passed ball, but ended the inning there. The initial diagnosis on Molina was a mild concussion.

Astros third – In and out of trouble
Biggio reached via a one-out single, but was erased in an inning-ending double play.

Cards fourth – Jimmy jacks one for two
Pujols singled with one down. One out later, Edmonds blasted a Buchholz offering off the face of the second deck.Cards 2-1.

Astros fourth – Lead lost in a hurry
The first hitter up, Chris Burke, walked. Ponson then hit Berkman on the arm with a pitch. Aaron Miles made a bad error, as Wilson's grounder went between his legs. Apparently, he was trying to tag Berkman before he had the ball. Burke scored as the runners ended up at third and second. Eric Munson walked to load them up. Ensberg grounded into a double play as the run scored. Adam Everett fanned swinging to end it. Both runs were unearned as Ponson did a nice job getting out of a real mess. Astros 3-2.

Cards fifth – Nothing from bottom guys
The 7-8-9 hitters each made an out.

Astros fifth – Ponson better
Ponson retired the side in order, including a strike out to end it.

Cards sixth – Cautious Astros
Pujols walked on four careful pitches with two outs. That was it.

Astros sixth – Cautious Cardinals
Berkman took a one-out walk. He was also stranded.

Cards seventh – Back to risk-taking
Chad Qualls came on to pitch. Edmonds hit a ball off the wall in right and another perfect throw by Berkman nailed him at second base. Bennett reached on a bloop single to right with two out, but was retired on a Miles fielders choice.

Astros seventh – Kinney superb
Ponson has allowed just two hits so far, but four walks. Scheduled to be the first hitter in the eighth means this will be his final inning on the mound. Ensberg singled to start the frame. Despite everyone knowing he would bunt, Everett reached safely. That ended the night for Ponson. A bit surprisingly, Josh Kinney was brought into a big jam in a big game. Pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro's bunt was hit too weakly, allowing Bennett to throw out the lead runner at third base. The third base umpire called a balk, but the hitter Biggio had received time from the home plate ump. Biggio hit into a 5-4-3 to end the inning as Rolen made a great play on the short hop and Miles handed the turn expertly.

Cards eighth – Duncan's donut
Dan Wheeler pitched. John Rodriguez did it again - hitting a ball onto that stupid hill in center field. But, this time it wasn't caught. Chris Burke bobbled the ball, but Rodriguez apparently didn't pick up Jose Oquendo, as he could have taken third. Eckstein laid down a perfect sacrifice. After going 3-0, Duncan swung and swung and swung and struck out. That hurt as Pujols was intentionally walked. Closer Brad Lidge became the next pitcher. Rolen lined his first pitch to second base.

Astros eighth – Adam's error costly
Adam Wainwright took over. Lamb was fooled by a curve, making a swinging bunt. Wainwright was too late to catch Lamb, but threw wildly past first, as the hitter ended up at second base. Trying to bunt, Burke popped up to Wainwright. Berkman was given an intentional walk to set up the double play. Lamb scored as Wilson singled past a diving Lamb on a 2-0 offering. Pinch-hitter Brad Ausmus reached on a fielders choice as Berkman took third. Wainwright fanned Ensberg to end it. Astros 4-2.

Cards ninth – Lights out
With the Cards needing a runner, Edmonds swung at a 3-1 pitch and seemed to tweak his back. He grounded out on the next pitch. Encarnacion at least took three pitches before fanning. Gary Bennett made the final out.

Upcoming action – probable starters (times CDT)
Friday @ Houston: Jason Marquis vs. Wandy Rodriguez 7:05 p.m. FSNM
Saturday @ Houston: Anthony Reyes vs. Roger Clemens 3:05 p.m. Big Fox
Sunday @ Houston: Chris Carpenter vs. Andy Pettitte 7:05 p.m. ESPN

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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