Game Observations – Mon. 9/11 – Cards 7-0

The St. Louis Cardinals began their home series against the Houston Astros on the right foot, winning 7-0 Monday night. Chris Carpenter tossed a complete game shutout and Ron Belliard plated four. The 76-67 Cards' lead over the idle Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central Division race is five games. The Astros are six back.

Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter was his usual dominant self, allowing six hits and two walks over his complete game shutout, his third of the season.

The offense was paced by Ron Belliard, who broke the game open with a bases-loaded triple and singled home another. Albert Pujols was on base four times with two hits and two walks and he scored twice. Chris Duncan was on base three times and also crossed home plate twice. Juan Encarnacion drove in two.

One year ago today
On September 11, 2005, the Cardinals lost 7-2 to the Mets at Busch, snapping a three-game winning streak. Matt Morris (14-8) suffered the loss and was in the midst of his first three-game losing streak as a starter. David Eckstein had a pair of hits and John Gall and Skip Schumaker drove in the Cardinals runs.

The match-up
Chris Carpenter (13-6, 2.97) vs. Taylor Buchholz (6-9, 5.96), who was just recalled from the minor leagues to replace Andy Pettitte, who was given an extra day to recuperate after turning his ankle over the weekend.

The line-up
Miles, Duncan (RF), Pujols, Rolen, Spiezio (LF), Encarnacion (CF), Belliard, Molina and Carpenter.
In: Aaron Miles, Ron Belliard.
Out: Skip Schumaker, Jose Vizcaino.
Chris Duncan was a late add to the line-up in place of Preston Wilson, who was scheduled to start leading off when Pettitte was still the pitcher. Duncan, Juan Encarnacion and Scott Spiezio all stayed in the line-up, but each is starting at a different position from Sunday.

Injury update
Dan McLaughlin reported that shortstop David Eckstein is feeling "a lot better". He is not going to play in the current series, but will accompany the team on their next road trip. Dan also showed a clip of Jim Edmonds taking batting practice.

On to the game…

Astros first – Yadi guns down another
Craig Biggio was installed in the leadoff position for the first time since July. That is great for the Cards, since the second baseman is hitting just .176 on the road and .235 against right-handers this season. He grounded out. Mike Lamb singled off Rolen's glove, but was thrown out trying to steal. Lance Berkman fanned.

Cards first – Leadoff walk doesn't advance
Aaron Miles drew a leadoff walk. Pujols struck out, looking bad on a low and outside breaking ball. Rolen lined out to short for the third out.

Astros second – A walk
Luke Scott drew a one-out free pass. Encarnacion made a nice running catch in deep right center to retire Chris Burke.

Cards second – Great play saves two
Spiezio doubled over the head of the right fielder, Aubrey Huff, as his one-hopper bounced off the wall. Molina was intentionally walked to set up a force. Adam Everett knocked down Carpenter's hard hit ball, but couldn't field it for an error. With the bases loaded, Luke Scott made a great diving catch near the left field line on Miles' sinking liner to save two runs.

Astros third – K bookends
Carp fanned Brad Ausmus to start the inning and Biggio to end it.

Cards third – Good guys take lead
Duncan took a leadoff walk. Pujols singled between short and third. Rolen flied out, and so did Spiezio. But, Duncan made a baserunning mistake, not taking third on the latter fly ball to right center. Encarnacion delivered a clutch single up the middle to score Duncan. Pujols came home on a single to left by Belliard. Cards 2-0.

Astros fourth – Can't touch this
Carpenter struck out Lamb and Berkman on the way to another 1-2-3.

Cards fourth – Belliard strikes big blow
Miles reached via a one-out fielding error by Everett as the ball began to slip out of his hand after handling the grounder. Duncan missed a home run that went foul to right and then doubled off the top of the wall in right on a full count. A nice at-bat. Two runners in scoring position. Pujols was walked to load the bases. Fernando Nieve began to warm up in the Houston pen and was called on to pitch to Rolen. He grounded out on a full-count offering as one run scored. With first base open, Spiezio was put on base. It is the third intentional walk given to the Cards in less than four innings. Encarnacion walked to force in another. Belliard cleared the bases on a ball that bounced off the wall in center and eluded two outfielders. It ended up being a triple. Cards 7-0.

Astros fifth – Two hits
Burke and Everett singled with one out. A 6-3 double play ended that foolishness.

Cards fifth – Two-out noise
Berkman made a diving stop to save a double down the line by Miles. Duncan walked with two outs, allowing Pujols to again hit with runners on base. He walked. Rolen took strike three looking to end the threat. The Cardinals have stranded nine so far.

Astros sixth – Mr. Efficiency
It took Carpenter all of four pitches to get three outs.

Cards sixth – Quiet
Dave Borkowski took over on the mound for Houston and retired his three hitters in order.

Astros seventh – Two late hits
Miles slipped on a ball hit by Luke Scott and he reached via the infield single with two out. Chris Burke singled to right before Everett grounded into a force out.

Cards seventh – Down, down, down
Three more retired by Borowski.

Astros eighth – A runner
Biggio walked with two out, but Lamb grounded out on the next pitch. Houston has just five hits and two walks so far.

Cards eighth – RISP stranded
Against Russ Springer, Pujols hit a ball into the right field corner and hustled it into a double with one out. Trever Miller pitched next and fanned John Rodriguez. Spiezio flied to the track to end it.

Astros ninth – No pen required
Huff reached with one out as he singled off Pujols' glove, but Carp closed the door.

Upcoming action – probable starters (times CDT)
Tue., Sept. 12 vs. Astros: Jeff Weaver (3-4, 5.19) vs. Andy Pettitte (13-13, 4.34) 7:10 p.m. FSNM
Wed., Sept. 13 vs. Astros: Jason Marquis (14-14, 5.66) vs. Roy Oswalt (12-8, 3.15) 1:10 p.m. FSNM
Thu., Sept. 14: Off day

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

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