April 9 – Cardinals 3, Pirates 0

Braden Looper and his St. Louis Cardinals took the first game in their road series over the Pirates in the Bucs' home opener Monday afternoon.

The St. Louis Cardinals started their second series of a six-game road trip in fine fashion on Monday, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park by a score of 3-0 on starting pitcher Braden Looper's two-hit seven inning shutout victory, the first of his career.

Looper, who pitched well in his first career start last week against the Mets, gave up only two hits during his seven innings of work, a double off the bat of center fielder Chris Duffy and a single by left fielder Jason Bay. Looper walked three and struck out another three batters in the win. He lowered his ERA to 2.08 in his two starts, and had a stint of eight straight retired batters during the game.

The Cardinals' offense continued their success while only scoring three runs in the game. The offense got base hits from six different players, the three biggest stars being Albert Pujols (2-for-3 with two runs scored and one walk), Scott Rolen (1-for-4 with one RBI), and Preston Wilson (one pinch hit double with two RBIs). David Eckstein was also 2-for-4 with a run scored in the game, while Yadier Molina and Jim Edmonds collected base hits.

After Looper left in the eighth inning, Ryan Franklin pitched the eighth, giving up one hit and striking out two. Jason Isringhausen came in for the save opportunity and got second baseman Freddy Sanchez to ground out before striking out first baseman Adam LaRoche and Bay to end the game. It was Isringhausen's second save of the season.

Game Notes:

-Pujols is starting to heat up now, as he is 4-for-8 in his last two games with two RBIs, one double, and one home run. Scott Rolen is also doing better with five RBIs in his last two games. The whole Cardinals' offense has come around just in time for this road trip. Yadier Molina is doing much better than his last regular season, and David Eckstein picked up two hits on Monday - all of which are good news for St. Louis.

-Braden Looper made a great start, showing promise for his first season as a starter. He pitched well against the Mets and came out pitching like a star against the Pirates Monday afternoon. With Kip Wells, Looper, and Adam Wainwright all having top notch starts under their belts, this rotation may not be in as much trouble with Chris Carpenter going down as one might think. Randy Keisler gets the call-up for a spot start on Tuesday.

-Jason Isringhausen looked fine getting the save in the shutout victory for the Cardinals. He did not even allow a base runner while retiring perhaps the Pirates' three best hitters - striking out two of them. If Izzy pitches well all season, he could have a decent year as closer - a huge uplift after a number of disappointing performances in '06, when he was limited by his health.

-Keisler has started 17 games in his career, with a won-loss record of 4-4. He has a career ERA of 6.82 (which does not imply good news for the Cardinals), but those who take a closer look at his career stats see that he has constantly improved as a pitcher over his first five seasons. In 2000 and 2001 with the New York Yankees, Keisler started 11 games with an ERA of 11.82 and 6.22 in those two seasons respectively. In 2003 with San Diego, he only appeared in two games, and obtained an ERA of 12.00. In '05 with Cincinnati, he pitched in 24 games, starting four of those, but finished with a much lower ERA of 6.27. Then, in 2006 with Oakland he pitched in 11 games, all of which were relief appearances, but he finished with an even lower ERA of 4.50. He should at least get through the Pirates lineup unscathed the first time around, but look out for these seasoned MLB hitters to pick up on his weak spots - perhaps in his delivery or a few mistake pitches they did not take their first at-bat against the new St. Louis lefty.

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

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