April 15 – Cardinals 10, Brewers 2

The Cardinals' offense exploded against Brewers ace Ben Sheets on Sunday, leading to a series split. Albert Pujols and Chris Duncan starred on Jackie Robinson Day.

After three straight ballgames with a score of 3-2 (two wins, one loss), the Cardinals were poised to break out offensively. Although the team already has one ten-run game this season, Sunday's 10-2 victory over the division rival Milwaukee Brewers and pitcher Ben Sheets seemed to be exactly what the Cardinals needed. The win tied St. Louis with Milwaukee for the National League Central Division lead with records of 6-5, but the offensive outburst was the true bright spot for the Cardinals - who represented a late baseball hero by having the entire team (the Brewers participated also) wearing the number 42 (in honor of the great Jackie Robinson).

It started off looking fairly bad for starter Braden Looper and the Cardinals when first baseman Prince Fielder's double knocked in second baseman Rickie Weeks in the first inning. After that, catcher Johnny Estrada singled, scoring Fielder. Down 2-0, the Cardinals' day did not look so bright anymore - despite the wonderful weather at Busch Stadium. Luckily, one particular struggling hitter came out of his slump when the Cardinals came to bat in the bottom of the first.

St. Louis' half of the inning started with a David Eckstein single, which was followed by a Chris Duncan base hit. Then, with two on, Albert Pujols came to the plate. After a few pitches from Sheets, Pujols connected with a loud crack and sent the ball sailing over the outfield to where it landed - in the bullpen. The three-run blast was Pujols' second home run of the year.

With little to no offensive action through the top of the fourth inning, the Cardinals were looking to increase their one-run lead in the bottom of the fourth. After right fielder Preston Wilson reached first on an error, the Cardinals looked like they were in business. Second baseman Adam Kennedy grounded out, but advanced Wilson to second. Catcher Yadier Molina followed up with a single of his own, and in the next at-bat, Braden Looper hit an RBI groundout to put St. Louis up 4-2.

In the top of the fith inning, the Cardinals looked like they might be in trouble again. Brewers' shortstop J.J. Hardy singled and Fielder walked, but with two outs Yadier Molina snap-fired a pickoff throw to first and Pujols' swiped his glove over Fielder for the third out. The big-time defensive stop helped Looper out a lot and gave the Cardinals the momentum they needed for the rest of the game. Looper would pitch only one more inning, but he got the three batters he faced to fly out, ground out, and strike out, respectively.

The Brewers' offense may have been stifled, but the Cardinals were just coming alive. In the bottom of the fifth, Duncan, who was 2-for-2 to this point, came to the plate. The emerging star left fielder is hitting the ball extremely well, and his fifth inning solo home run to right-center, a laser beam, was enough proof for the fans - and for the suddenly struggling Milwaukee Brewers. The Cardinals only picked up only the one run in the fifth (off Duncan's home run), but the true explosion of runs came in the bottom of the sixth.

The Cardinals' got a walk, a single, and another walk to start off the sixth inning. The two walks belonged to Wilson and Molina, while Kennedy had the base hit. With the bases loaded, pinch hitter Scott Spiezio was hit on the foot by a pitch, bringing home the sixth run of the day. After that, Eckstein made contact enough for a sacrifice fly, which scored Kennedy from third. The hot-swinging Duncan came up and singled for his fourth hit of the day, loading the bases yet again. With the bases juiced, Albert Pujols came up to the plate. The tension was high and the pressure was on, but Pujols did not come through with a grand slam, yet his RBI groundout increased the Cardinals' lead yet again.

St. Louis was not finished yet, as Kennedy had an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh, which scored Preston Wilson (who had doubled in the inning). Then, in the Cardinals' half of the eighth inning, that struggling hitter mentioned earlier reassured his team and his fans that he is no longer slumping. Albert Pujols connected once again, and launched another baseball to deep left field for a solo home run. It was his fifth RBI of the day.

Because of the rainout for Friday's game, the Cardinals and Brewers ended up splitting the series with one win apiece. The two teams are tied for first place in the NL Central with 6-5 records. St. Louis starts a new two-game series at home on Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Game Notes:

- Sunday's game was an almost perfect performance for the entire Cardinals team. Preston Wilson, Chris Duncan, and Yadier Molina all made amazing defensive plays, while Duncan, Pujols, Eckstein, and Kennedy all had at least one RBI. Duncan had four base hits in five at-bats, while Pujols went 2-for-5 with the two home runs. Eckstein was 1-for-3 with one run scored and the one RBI, while Kennedy went 2-for-4 with one run scored and the one RBI. It was a great day all around.

For those who missed the contest, the three great defensive plays went like this: Preston Wilson had to track down a deep line drive in right field, but cut a few times and made a great over-the-shoulder catch. Duncan showed speed and good judgment in his catch, one that would have been routine for most at-bats. This one wasn't so easy, but that's because it was Milwaukee pitcher Ben Sheets at the plate, and Duncan had been moved to shallow left field and had to run all the way back to the warning track to make the catch on the screaming line drive. Yadier Molina's pickoff of Prince Fielder at first base was great, but nothing unusual from the Cardinals' defensive stud. That snap-fire wrist motion helps him get the ball to first faster than nearly any other catcher in the game.

- Braden Looper had an average outing, nothing like his last performance (a seven inning, two-hit, shutout appearance), but he held the Brewers to only two runs, which allowed the Cardinals to stay in the game and put up enough runs to win the ballgame - although they added on a few insurance runs, as one can see.

- The bullpen held up well on Sunday, also. Ryan Franklin, Brad Thompson, and Randy Flores each pitched one scoreless inning, allowing only three Brewers to reach base (one baserunner per pitcher, actually).

- The players of the game are Albert Pujols and Chris Duncan. Pujols was 2-for-5 with five RBI and two home runs. It was a monster day for Pujols, who had said the following to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "I won't use any of the injuries I have as an excuse." The article goes on to say that on opening day Pujols hurt the same right oblique that kept him out for two weeks last summer. Apparently Pujols is playing through some pain, but his performance Sunday in St. Louis does not show it.

Duncan, on the other hand, is completely healthy, and that is obviously showing, as well. So far this season, the slugger is batting .412 with three home runs, five RBI, seven runs, and one stolen base. He is on his way to a big sophomore season.

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

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