April 6 – Cardinals 4, Astros 2

On Friday night, the St. Louis Cardinals improved their 2007 record to 1-3 with a road victory over the Houston Astros. Adam Wainwright and Chris Duncan provided the firepower.

The St. Louis Cardinals kicked off their first road trip of the 2007 season with a bang, earning their first win by defeating the now 0-4 Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Friday night by a score of 4-2.

Leading the way for the Cardinals were two of the team's most inexperienced players, starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and second-year outfielder Chris Duncan. Wainwright punched his ticket as a legit number two starter in the Cardinals' rotation in only his first career start, pitching seven innings while allowing only five hits, one run, and three walks. He struck out three batters, as well. The only run allowed came in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Astros left fielder Carlos Lee flew out to center, allowing third baseman Mike Lamb to tag up and score from third on the sacrifice fly. Wainwright was more than spectacular on the mound in his first career start, but he starred at the plate and with his glove as well.

The Cardinals' closer-converted-starter hit a home run in his first career at-bat and now carries a lifetime batting average of .500 (4-for-8). When given the chance, he has been able to help his own cause offensively, and he showed that against the Astros on Friday night. In the top of the third inning, center fielder So Taguchi singled, and after Adam Kennedy struck out, Wainwright promptly belted a double, scoring Taguchi from first.

The Cardinals had captured their first lead of the 2007 season, and it was about to be built upon. After David Eckstein flew out in the next at-bat, stellar left fielder Chris Duncan came to the plate. Duncan had struck out his first time up, proving Tony La Russa's theory that he isn't quite ready to hit lefty pitchers such as the Astros' Wandy Rodriguez. Of course, the natural order of things means Duncan is going to have to learn how to hit lefty pitching someday, and Friday's game may have been the night he adjusted. In the at-bat after Eckstein's flyout, Duncan waited on a few off-speed pitches to go by, and when he got a fastball from Rodriguez, he crushed it deep to right-center field for a two-run home run.

Later on in the game, Duncan hit yet another Rodriguez pitch deep to the outfield, and it dropped in and rolled around in the corner long enough for Duncan to try and push for a triple. Duncan was thrown out at third after an amazing throw but he did get the double added to his at-bats. Duncan played like a man among boys Friday night, and he proved his point to the Cardinals' management that he belongs on the field every game after hitting a ground rule double in his final at-bat, knocking his third and final RBI of the day as pinch hitter Scott Spiezio was able to score.

The Cardinals relied on Duncan and Wainwright for all four runs against the Astros, and these two players are poised to make the biggest step up of anyone on the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007. Wainwright's ERA for the game was an amazing 1.29, and if he can keep up outings like this all season long, he would quickly become one of the more dominant young pitchers in baseball.

Jason Isringhausen entered the game in the ninth inning to pick up his first 2007 save for the Cardinals, and although he had a little bit of a shaky appearance, he did end up with that save. In the bottom of the ninth, he allowed a leadoff single to the Astros' Lee. After a quick groundout in the next at-bat, Lee moved to second. He then proceeded to strike out outfielder Chris Burke (Burke's third punchout of the day), but pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro knocked a base hit up the middle and scored Lee from second. The Astros needed a home run to tie the game, and they used pinch-hitter Jason Lane to try and make that happen, but Isringhausen's cutter was at full force Friday and he worked Lane into fly-out to end the game.

The Cardinals play the Astros in the second game of the series on Saturday at 8:05 P.M. CDT, a game featuring Anthony Reyes for the Cardinals and Astros' ace Roy Oswalt.

Game Notes:

-Good to see St. Louis pick up their first win of the season. Chris Duncan and Adam Wainwright were my game MVPs, and the two may end up getting a few honors at the end of the season with this kind of production. Wainwright is amazing on the mound and that was evident during Spring Training...as long as La Russa keeps Duncan in the lineup he will be a force to reckon with against lefties and righties and even ambidextrous pitchers.

-Albert Pujols still looks lost at the plate four games into the season. He lowered his batting average to .077 and has been the worst Cardinals' batter at the plate so far, collecting only one hit (a meaningless double against the Mets). Once Albert does come around and start swinging the bat like he really can, the Cardinals will surely get on a roll and start winning more games. Chris Duncan is more than picking up the slack right now, but more on him in a bit.

-As much as I am a fan of Preston Wilson and So Taguchi's personalities, I would like to suggest something be done with these two players who just aren't getting the job done offensively or defensively. Taugchi has always been a fan favorite and Wilson is great with the other players in the clubhouse, but they either are going to have to turn it around on the field or find themselves making a 180 right to the trade block or waiver wire.

-Scott Rolen needs to pick some more of the slack from Pujols' problems at the plate. He isn't seeing the ball as well as he was back in the series against the Mets, and his 0-for-4 performance with two strikeouts Friday is not impressive in the least. If Pujols and Rolen don't step it up a notch, it could be a long season.

-Chris Duncan proved himself Friday, and if he sits out another game again because of a lefty pitcher on the mound La Russa ought to be fined by the team. Do not mistake that for *fired*, but *fined*. Duncan is a powerful hitter who has actually come through for the Cardinals when they need it most. He has an Albert Pujols-like start to the 2007 season, and I would suggest all the fantasy players out there take a serious look into picking up the Cardinals' slugger. I predict that Duncan will be able to hit lefties okay for the rest of the season. He will have his off days, but he proved today that a starting left hander could not stop him for going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a huge home run.

-Jim Edmonds sat the game out Friday due to a few minor bumps and scratches. He should be back soon.

-Adam Wainwright is now my dark horse pick for Cy Young. Yes, it is a little bit crazy. But he has the stuff to do it. He has the poise and maturity to do it (that comes from being the closer who struck out the final batter in the World Series), and he showed today that he has the guts, the offense, defense, and smarts to get out of jams. Those things will make him an 18 or 19-game winner in my opinion, and I figure he will finish with an ERA around 3.12-3.25.

-I have a feeling the Cardinals will beat Roy Oswalt on Saturday. The Astros ace has just a 7-5 career regular season mark against the Cards. Anthony Reyes and Wainwright are the future of the team, and I think Reyes shows what he's capable of in Houston with his counterpart (one of the best pitchers in the National League) on the mound against the Cardinals.

-Hopefully Duncan continues his offensive stride. If he does, the Cardinals could take the series in Houston. Looking forward to the next game, and I'll have more after it is over.

Brady Holzhauer can be reached via email at sportswriter5@gmail.com.

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