The stage was set. It was the bottom of the ninth inning, two outs, bases loaded, and none other than Albert Pujols at the plate. Pujols, who appeared to have broken out of his slump after a two-home run performance on Sunday, was indeed the perfect hitter to have at the plate with the game on the line. Down 3-2 to the Pirates, Pujols was poised to win the ballgame. In 2006, Pujols would likely collect the game-winning RBI - but this is 2007, and Pujols popped out in foul territory to end the contest.
Anthony Reyes started the night off on a bad note, giving up all three Pirates runs in the first inning. After one quick out, Reyes loaded the bases then walked outfielder Jason Bay to score the first run. Right fielder Xavier Nady's single brought home the other two runs.
The Cardinals did not score until the bottom of the seventh inning, when second baseman Adam Kennedy's single chased third baseman Scott Rolen in from third. Then, in the bottom of the eighth inning, center fielder Jim Edmonds finally got his first RBI of the season on a bloop single, bringing left fielder Chris Duncan in from second.
As stated before, the Cardinals had a golden chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, as all the pieces of the puzzle started to fit together. Adam Kennedy reached first after Pittsburgh first baseman Adam LaRoche booted a ground ball. Catcher Yadier Molina bunted perfectly down the first base line to allow Kennedy to move to second base. After that was the pitcher's spot, so manager Tony La Russa went with pinch hitter Aaron Miles, who promptly hit a ground ball down the third base line. It appeared to be an easy play for the Pittsburgh third baseman, but the ball took a nasty bounce off the third base bag and went flying over his head for an infield single. With runners at first and third and only one out, down 3-2, it was up to shortstop David Eckstein. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Eckstein was grazed by an inside fastball and ran to first base on the HBP. With the bases loaded, it was up to the Cardinals' two best hitters - Duncan and Pujols. Unfortunately, both players end up hitting weak pop ups, providing the Pirates with the final two outs of the game.
Adam Wainwright (1-0) faces off against Tom Gorzelanny (1-0) on Tuesday at 12:10 P.M. CDT. Wainwright has been one of the Cardinals' most consistent starters this season, and he looks to split the series against Pittsburgh with a victory.
-Chris Duncan made an amazing diving catch in the eighth inning, stretching out his whole body and sacrificing himself to make the grab. Larry Walker has done an amazing job with Chris, and this is exactly why Walker got a World Series ring.
-There wasn't really a player of the game, but I will go with Duncan for his defense and timely base hit in the eighth inning.
-Albert Pujols seems to have come out of his slump only to go 0-for-4 with a strikeout on Monday. Perhaps his oblique is bothering him still, and if that's the case, that nasty check swing he took late in the game might have just re-aggravated that injury.
-Wainwright needs a good start on Tuesday to keep the Cardinals within a half game or a game out of first place in the NL Central.
Brady Holzhauer can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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