Backing In to the NL Central – Brewers 5-3

The St. Louis Cardinals lost Sunday afternoon to the Milwaukee Brewers by a 5-3 score at Busch Stadium to close out the 2006 regular season. The 83-78 Cards finish the season with a 1.5 game edge over the Astros to win the NL Central crown and play next on Tuesday in the first round of the National League playoffs, visiting the NL Western Division Champion San Diego Padres.

The decision by Cardinals Tony La Russa to start pitcher Anthony Reyes instead of Chris Carpenter failed as the rookie allowed four runs, including two home runs, in 2/3 of an inning. It was the shortest outing by a Cardinals starter this season.

The offense didn't know up, making rookie Carlos Villanueva again look like Cy Young. They managed just five hits against the 22-year-old. Chris Duncan, Albert Pujols and Scott Spiezio did homer in the ninth to make the score respectable. In their (limited) defense, in the fifth inning, the Braves defeated the Astros, rendering this game meaningless. The Cardinals could not have achieved home field advantage at this point, anyway.

One year ago today
On October 1, 2005, the Cardinals defeated the Reds 9-6 in Game #161 with the help of back-to-back home runs by Albert Pujols and Larry Walker in the first inning. Walker added a second solo home run in the fourth. Reggie Sanders drove in two runs and was carrying a team season-high five-game RBI streak. Julian Tavarez picked up his 31st hold to match a Cardinals' single-season high. Randy Flores earned his third win and Jason Isringhausen got his 38th save.

The match-up
Anthony Reyes (5-7, 4.68) vs. Carlos Villanueva (1-2, 3.97). Original starter Chris Carpenter was held back for a Monday game, if needed. The 22-year-old Villanueva was torched by the Cubs last time out, but stymied the Cards in Milwaukee prior to that. Which guy will show up.

The line-up
Miles (SS), Duncan (RF), Pujols, Wilson (LF), Rolen, Encarnacion (CF), Belliard, Molina and Reyes.
Out: David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds.
In: Aaron Miles, Juan Encarnacion.
Interesting that Jim Edmonds is sitting against the righty Villanueva. Eckstein must not be right, either.

On to the game…

Brewers first – In a hole again
Tony Gwynn singled leading off. Prince Fielder blasted a home run into the Brewers' bullpen in left. In between all the excitement, Reyes fanned two. Reyes had the advantage against the red-hot Geoff Jenkins, who cleared the wall in right on a 1-2 mistake. Hart tripled into the right center gap as the cutoff man Belliard could not even make a throw. Duncan the playoff-less came out to say hello to Reyes to give Brad Thompson some time to warm up. David Bell dropped a dunker into right to score the fourth run. That ended Reyes' day right there. Thompson got the final out. Brewers 4-0.

Cards first – Pain continues
Villanueva took a line drive by Miles off his pitching hand, but collected the out and was able to stay in the game. Duncan fanned and Pujols grounded out.

Brewers second – Quiet
A strikeout and two ground outs for Thompson.

Cards second – Two stranded
Wilson hit a ball sharply to left leading off. The ball clanked off the glove of Corey Hart for a single and an error. Rolen walked and was retired on a force at second on a nice catch and throw by Graffanino. Belliard lined out to short and Molina grounded out.

Brewers third – Thompson steady
Jenkins walked with two outs, but that was it.

Cards third – Kd
Duncan was called out on strikes to end the 1-2-3 inning.

Brewers fourth – Sosa serves
Jorge Sosa took over and did his specialty, allowed home runs. Mike Rivera hit a solo shot just inside the left field foul pole. Brewers 5-0.

Cards fourth – DP
Pujols led off with a single. Wilson grounded into a 5-4-3. Rolen took a called strike three to end another zero.

Brewers fifth – Two on
Fielder singled with one out as did Jenkins with two out. Sosa fanned Hart.

Cards fifth – Backing in
With one out, the Braves defeated the Astros, starting a red version of the Braves' trademark Tomahawk chop in tribute. Cameras caught players and coaches hugging in the dugout.

Brewers sixth – Down hill
Rolen exited from the game. Villanueva fanned for the third out.

Cards sixth – Cy Carlos
Duncan fanned for the third time Sunday to end the inning.

Brewers seventh – Garbage time
Chris Narveson pitched and collected three outs.

Cards seventh – Filling it out
Three additional outs as the bench emptied.

Brewers eighth – Give it up
Josh Kinney pitched. Jenkins singled with one out. Does anyone care?

Cards eighth – Rose Bowl
Encarnacion flied out to the warning track to start the inning. Mike Rose collected a base hit, his second as a Cardinal in nine at-bats.

Brewers ninth – Looper mops up
Mike Rivera singled. Tony Gwynn took his place on a force play. That was the only runner against Braden Looper.

Cards ninth – Three solo shots
Chris Duncan averted the shut out with a home run after fanning three times. Pujols followed with #49 of the season, up into the third deck next to Big Mac Land. Closer Francisco Cordero came in and Scott Spiezio homered into the Cardinals bullpen. After Juan Encarnacion fanned, La Russa shook hands with Milwaukee manager Ned Yost and his staff. Brewers 5-3.

In conclusion
The Cardinals looked to be on the way to a loss as they could not muster any offense even with a second look at Carlos Villanueva. They were let off the hook when the Astros loss to the Braves was complete during the fifth inning. Both teams should have just stopped playing right then and there.

Upcoming action – tentative (times CDT)
Game Matchup Day Date Time TV
NLDS Game 1 STL (Carpenter: 15-8, 3.09) @ SD (Peavy: 11-14, 4.09) Tue Oct. 3 3:05 ESPN
NLDS Game 2 STL (Suppan: 12-7, 4.12) @ SD (Young: 11-5, 3.46) Thu Oct. 5 3:05 ESPN
NLDS Game 3 SD (Williams: 12-5, 3.65) @ STL (Weaver: 8-14, 5.76) Sat Oct. 7 3:35 FOX
NLDS Game 4* SD @ STL Sun Oct. 8 TBA TBA
NLDS Game 5* STL @ SD Mon Oct. 9 3 OR 7 FOX
* if necessary

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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