Game Observations – Thu. 7/27 – Cubs 5-4

The St. Louis Cardinals fell to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field by a 5-4 score Thursday night. The winning run scored on a Scott Rolen fielding error as Tyler Johnson lost the game in relief. The Cardinals' 58-43 record meant their lead over the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central Division dropped to 3-1/2 games.

Jeff Weaver's pitches didn't miss many Cubs bats, as he allowed ten hits, but held on for in 5-2/3 innings. He served up two solo home runs and was pulled with the tying run on first base. Tyler Johnson was awful, allowing all three batters he faced to reach and Weaver's inherited run to score. The winning run came in on a Scott Rolen fielding error on Johnson's watch in that fateful sixth inning.

Juan Encarnacion went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBI. David Eckstein, Chris Duncan and Jim Edmonds each had two singles. Edmonds also walked and scored a run. Hector Luna doubled and drove in a run. But, the Cardinals had trouble stringing their 12 hits together. Albert Pujols went 0-for-4 and stranded five, the only starting position player without a safety.

One year ago today
On July 27, 2005, Jason Marquis went what was at the time a career-high 8-1/3 innings pitched in his first career complete game. But the San Diego Padres won 2-1 on a walk-off single by Robert Fick with one out in the ninth. Jake Peavy and Trevor Hoffman combined on a three-hitter for the Padres. Abraham Nunez plated the Cards' lone run with an RBI triple.

Futility
Coming into the night, the Cardinals are 0-6 in Chicago this season, having been swept by both the White Sox and Cubs in earlier action. On the other hand, it was the only series sweep registered by the Baby Bears all season long and that was back in April.

The match-up
Jeff Weaver (4-11, 6.32) vs. Rich Hill (0-4, 9.31), just back from the minors.

The line-up
Eckstein, Duncan (LF), Pujols, Rolen, Encarnacion, Edmonds, Luna, Molina and Weaver.
Out: Scott Spiezio, John Rodriguez, Gary Bennett.
In: Albert Pujols, Juan Encarnacion, Yadier Molina.
The Cardinals "best" line-up is on the field for the series opener as three regulars return from a day off Thursday.

On to the game…

Cards first – Three down
On the second pitch of the game, Eckstein was barely thrown out by a diving Todd Walker at second. The next two outs came quickly on the infield.

Cubs first –B2B 400 footers
Leading off, Juan Pierre singled up the middle. He was nailed trying to steal second on a great throw by Molina, who is doing this at a 44% clip this season. Walker then homered to right, with the ball almost going onto Sheffield Street. Michael Barrett hammered the next pitch onto Waveland Avenue in left. Jacque Jones singled with two out. Phil Nevin fanned for the third out. Cubs 2-0.

Cards second – Hill coughs up lead
Rolen walked. He scored on the next pitch as Encarnacion sent an inside pitch on a line drive up and over the left field wall. Edmonds singled to right. He scored on a blast by Luna that hit off the wall. Left fielder Matt Murton was positioned several yards off line and the ball bounced toward the infield. Luna was credited with an RBI double. He took third on a Molina fly to right. Weaver whiffed and Eckstein flied out. Cards 3-2.

Cubs second – Dodging bullets
Matt Murton singled to left leading off. Eckstein made a nice diving stop to force Murton, but Neifi Perez beat the throw to first. Hill doubled down the left field line to put two in scoring position. Ugh! Weaver did buckle down to get the next two hitters out, without the ball leaving the infield.

Cards third – Rick Dempsey Duncan
Duncan struck a long single into the gap in left center. Rolen took a one-out walk. Duncan scored on a first-pitch Encarnacion single to center, making an awkward head-first slide at the plate even though there was no throw home. Edmonds popped out and Luna flied out. Cards 4-2.

Cubs third – Weaver resilient
Barrett doubled to deep right center, well over Edmonds' head. Barrett is 17-for-34 against the Cards this season. Weaver again minimized the damage by getting three outs in succession.

Cards fourth – Hill conquered
Molina walked and Weaver sacrificed him up. Eckstein was hit by a pitch and Duncan singled to right to load the bases. Michael Wuertz was asked to retire Pujols. He did even better – getting a 6-4-3.

Cubs fourth – Another RISP stranded
Perez reached on a bunt single to the right side. Wuertz bunted him over. Weaver again dodged the damage.

Cards fifth – Not in order yet, but almost
Edmonds walked with two down, but Luna fanned.

Cubs fifth – That's more like it
Weaver retired the 2-3-4 hitters in order, including a strike out of Barrett.

Cards sixth – Wild inning
Lefty Glendon Rusch took over on the mound. Molina reached on a hard shot to Aramis Ramirez at third. He couldn't handle the ball, enabling the not-speedy Molina to leg it out for a gift single. Weaver sacrificed him over. Left fielder Murton slid to make a catch on Eckstein, but the ball clanged off his glove. He then compounded matters by throwing to third, enabling Eckstein to take second. Duncan hit a little dribbler in front of the plate, but for some reason Molina headed home. At least he stayed in the rundown between third and home long enough for the runners to move up to third and second, respectively. With two outs and first base open, Roberto Novoa was brought in to face Pujols. Oddly, the new pitcher was the one to intentionally walk Pujols. Rolen lined out to Walker on the first pitch. The catch saved two runs.

Cubs sixth – Lead evaporates
The patriots Johnson and Hancock warmed up as Jacque Jones singled leading off. Phil Nevin forced him at second and Jones' hard slide kept Luna from completing the double play. Nevin took second on another grounder to short as Eckstein decided not to try to get the lead runner. Perez hit a liner near Encarnacion, but oddly Juan did not come home with the throw despite Nevin's lack of speed. The tying run on first base caused La Russa to replace Weaver with Tyler Johnson. A walk to Angel Pagan put another runner in scoring position. Juan Pierre tied the game on a ball hit right at Duncan. He trapped the ball, allowing Perez time to score. Todd Walker also took a free pass as Johnson can't throw strikes. The bases are loaded for Hancock. Rolen committed a fielding error on Barrett's grounder, allowing the lead run to score. Ramirez was finally retired 6-3 on a close play for the third out. Cubs 5-4.

Cards seventh – Not this time
Will Ohman allowed a lead off single for Encarnacion. This time, he saw all of two pitches, but 3-for-4 is 3-for-4. Braden Looper began to throw in the bullpen. Juan Pierre made a nice running catch in right center to record the third out on a Molina line drive.

Cubs seventh – Hold ‘em close
With Hancock still pitching, Murton doubled over Edmonds' head off the base of the wall for a two-out double. He was stranded there.

Cards eighth – Pujols is out, are the Cards, too?
Ohman fanned pinch-hitter Scott Spiezio, then left in favor of Bobby Howry. Eckstein singled to right. Duncan hit the ball hard, but Ramirez at third made an excellent diving catch. Jones made a leaping, falling catch on the warning track in right to retire Pujols.

Cubs eighth – Looper, remember him?
Spiezio stayed in left field as Braden Looper pitched for the first time since last Saturday in Los Angeles. The well-rested Looper got three quick outs.

Cards ninth – Smoke, but no fire
Closer Ryan Dempster, struggling recently, was asked to get the last three outs. Rolen singled to left, but was forced by Encarnacion at second. Edmonds singled up the middle, putting the tying run at second. John Rodriguez pinch hit for Luna, though he is just hitting .214 (6-for-28) in that role this season. He bounced into a game-ending double play, 4-3.

Upcoming action – probable starters (times CDT)
Fri., July 28 @ Cubs: Jason Marquis (12-7, 5.62) vs. Carlos Marmol (3-4, 4.50) 1:20 p.m. FSNM
Sat., July 29 @ Cubs: Anthony Reyes (2-4, 4.57) vs. Greg Maddux (8-11, 4.83) 3:05 p.m. Big FOX
Sun., July 30 @ Cubs: Chris Carpenter (10-4, 2.68) vs. Carlos Zambrano (11-3, 3.27) 1:20 p.m. WB11

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

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