FSN Midwest's Top Ten 1H Cardinals Plays

Looking back at the best plays of the first half of the St. Louis Cardinals' surprising 2008 season.

Our partners at FSN Midwest, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, feature the best pre-game and post-game analysis as part of "Cardinals Live". During Saturday's post-game edition, their Top Ten Plays from the first half of the Cardinals 2008 season were presented.

 

They are: 

 

   10.  Joe Mather's catch vs. Pittsburgh in his first game with the Cardinals (5/30)

     9.  Braden Looper's complete game 3 hitter vs. the Reds (6/11)

     8.  Joel Pineiro's kick save and throw to first against the Pirates (4/24)

     7.  Adam Kennedy's diving stop and flip against the Nationals (4/5)

     6.  Albert Pujols' "405" foot home run in San Diego (5/19)

     5.  Skip Schumaker's 3 walk-off hits in the 1st half (4/26, 5/2, 5/18)

     4.  Albert Pujols' slide home in the 9th inning in Colorado (5/5)

     3.  Rick Ankiel's diving catch in center vs. the Pirates (6/1)

     2.  Yadier Molina getting crushed but hanging on to the ball vs. the Phillies (6/15) (pictured)

     1.  Rick Ankiel's two throws at Colorado (5/6)

 

The traditional mid-point of the season is often considered to be the All-Star Game, yet reality is that the halfway point, 81 games, generally occurs two weeks earlier.  For the 2008 Cardinals, it was Friday night.

 

This year, the Cardinals, considered by some to be a second-division club or even a cellar-dweller, have been nothing of the sort.

 

April (18-11, 2-1/3 Top Ten plays)

 

The club got out of the gate quickly, taking two of three from the defending National League Champions, the Colorado Rockies. They went 4-0-1 in their first five series and took a 1.5 game lead in the NL Central. As April ended, the Cards were 18-11, tied for the divisional lead.

 

May (15-13, 4-2/3 Top Ten plays)

 

May began strongly, with an important series victory over the Chicago Cubs and a couple more wins over the Rockies. That put the Redbirds 2.5 games up, their largest lead of the season to-date. After a ten game stretch, during which they went 2-8, by mid-month, the Cards were three games out of first. There was no panic as the club went 9-3 the rest of the way to complete a 15-13 month.

 

June (12-12, 3 Top Ten plays)

 

As injuries piled up, specifically losing front-liners Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals managed to defy the critics by continuing to tread water, despite an interleague schedule that included road series in Boston and Detroit.

 

Through the season's mid-point, following Friday's game, the club was 12-12 in June. Their overall record was 45-36, nine games over .500. While the Cards were 4.5 games behind the Cubs in the standings, their record was the second-best in the NL. After opening day, the Cardinals spent only one day anywhere except first or second place in the division.

 

Now, I'll look into each of the Top Ten plays:

 

10. Mather's catch, May 30. The talk of the Cardinals minor league system in 2007, outfielder Joe Mather, made his major league debut on this Friday night. The club was looking for a shot in the arm as struggling outfielder Chris Duncan was optioned out to Triple-A Memphis.

 

Not only did the 25-year-old collect his initial major-league hit and RBI, he also added his first highlight-reel defensive play to save a run in the Cardinals' 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the second inning, Mather fully extended to make a diving catch down the line, robbing Adam LaRoche of what looked to be an RBI double.

 

9. Looper's complete game, June 11. Facing rookie phenom Johnny Cueto, the Cardinals veteran Braden Looper tossed a masterpiece. The closer-turned-starter allowed just three hits to the Cincinnati Reds and collected his first-ever complete game in a 10-0 victory.

 

The performance sent a message to all that these Cardinals weren't about to fold, despite having learned that afternoon that slugger Albert Pujols would have to go onto the disabled list due to a strained calf.

 

With the win, the Cardinals reached their high-water mark in games over .500, at 13.

 

8. Pineiro's kick save, April 24. In a play reminiscent of a hockey goalie making a pad save, right-hander Joel Pineiro set the stage for his first win of the season. Coming into the game with an ERA of 8.10, it was a crucial juncture for the veteran.

 

In the sixth inning, Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez' line shot up the middle struck Pineiro in the back of the left thigh. The ball ricocheted straight up into the air. Before it could hit the ground, Pineiro grabbed the ball, spun sharply and fired to first base to retire the speedy Sanchez. Pineiro remained in the game.

 

7. Kennedy's stop and flip, April 5. In just the fifth game of the season, the identity of the 2008 Cardinals was not yet established. Coming off the worst season of his career in 2007, the Cards second baseman was one of the many early questions for the club.

 

Washed out of his opening day start, de-facto ace Adam Wainwright was on the ropes in the fourth inning against the Washington Nationals. Despite collecting three hits and a walk in the frame, the Nats were held to one run in what would become a 5-4 Cardinals victory.

 

Kennedy's lunging stop was a big reason why. Adam Kearns smashed a ball deep and up the middle. Kennedy got to the ball on the grass, rolled over and made a flip from his back in a single motion. Shortstop Cesar Izturis was the recipient and he forced out the runner at second on a bang-bang play.

 

6. Pujols' San Diego blast, May 19. You've heard of home-team scoring, right? Well, this was clearly a case of home-team tape measuring.

 

In the Cardinals' 8-2 victory over the Padres, Albert Pujols slammed a pair of solo home runs as part of a 3-for-5 night. The Great One scored three runs and drove in two. It was his 22nd career multi-home run game and his second of the 2008 season.

 

The first homer was one of the most majestic in recent Cardinals history. Albert led off the fifth inning by hitting reliever Justin Germano's second offering onto the fourth-floor balcony of the Western Metal Supply Company building, located beyond Petco Park's left-field corner.

 

The official measurement of the blast was 405 feet. In reality, it could have been as much as 100 feet more. Perhaps the Padres, saddled with an MLB-worst 15-30 record at the time, weren't feeling charitable.

 

5. Schumaker's three walk-offs, April 26 and May 2, 18. Here at Scout.com, we've already thoroughly chronicled the Cardinals lead-off man's game-winning exploits with the bat this season.

 

"Skip Continues Cards Long Final At-Bat Run" – April 27

"Schumaker: Cardinals' Game-Winning King" – June 23 (subscribers-only)

 

4. Pujols' slide, May 5. The man who wins games with his bat is an aggressive baserunner, never afraid to take chances. In this case, it won a game for the Cardinals.

In a 5-5 tie against the Colorado Rockies, the hustling Pujols came all the way home from second base on a simple ground out. After a one-out double in the ninth inning, Albert took off as Rick Ankiel grounded out to the Rockies' rookie second baseman Jonathan Herrera.

As Herrera's throw floated to first baseman Todd Helton, Pujols kept running past third base and slid onto home plate. The slide was just beyond the reach of catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who surged forward in a futile attempt to tag Pujols out.

I can't recall if third base coach Jose Oquendo had the stop sign on or not, but it doesn't matter. When Pujols is on the bases, he makes his own decisions. Superstars can do that.

3. Ankiel's diving catch, June 1. The left-handed pitcher-turned-outfielder has served notice on the rest of baseball that he is a defensive force. This time, it was with the legs, body and the glove.

In the second inning of what would become a 7-4 Cardinals win over the Pirates, Ankiel made a highlight-reel catch reminiscent of former Gold Glove Award winner Jim Edmonds. Ankiel sprinted toward the warning track and with his back to home plate, he dove head-first to haul in a deep fly by Xavier Nady.

After the game, Manager Tony La Russa didn't mince his words. "It was probably the best play of the year for us. Ankiel set the tempo. Our defense had a huge day."

2. Molina's collision, June 15. To protect a tie game in the ninth inning, catcher Yadier Molina took one for the team. Trying to score the lead run, Philadelphia's Eric Bruntlett slammed into Molina, but the catcher held on to make the tag.

Molina had to reach backward to catch a one-hop throw from left fielder Chris Duncan and was drilled by the pinch runner as he turned toward Bruntlett. Molina held up the ball to verify he still had it before collapsing on the ground.

Yadi was face down for several minutes while complaining of neck and back pain, He left the field wearing a neck brace and riding on a body board. The Cardinals would go on to win the game, 7-6, in ten innings. After being diagnosed with a mild concussion, Molina missed less than a week's worth of action.

1. Ankiel's two throws, May 6. Anyone who has seen this pair of plays has to agree they are the highlight of the Cardinals first half.

 

One night after Pujols' slide (#4 above), centerfielder Rick Ankiel made two amazing throws, the latter of which may be among the best of all-time. In the Cardinals second consecutive 6-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies, Ankiel erased two runners at third base on throws from the deepest area of the Coors Field outfield.

In the first inning, the NL leader in stolen bases, Willy Taveras, tried to tag up from second on a fly ball. Bad idea.

Apparently Omar Quintanilla was asleep at the start of the game and missed Willy's folly. In the eighth inning, the infielder stupidly tried to turn a double into a triple. Ankiel's throw from the warning track reached third baseman Troy Glaus on the fly and once he got over the shock, Omar headed back to his dugout.  

Again, the manager was the biggest cheerleader. Said La Russa, "I don't believe he did it. I want to see the replays. I can't remember a dugout getting a bigger kick out of something. Who could believe it?"

 

What is your take?

 

Agree with this list? Have your own favorites not listed here? Join the discussion on our Cardinals message board.

 

Here's one that would have made my personal list.

 

Albert Pujols' May 21 trip of destruction around the bases against the San Diego Padres in an 11-3 win has to be remembered. Though I wouldn't want to wish ill on anyone, the two related plays were most impactful.

 

In the third inning, starting pitcher Chris Young suffered a broken nose as Pujols' line drive hit him in the face. Blood streamed down Young's face and onto the front of his jersey. Two hitters later, Young's batterymate, catcher Josh Bard, also headed to the disabled list with a high ankle sprain. Pujols ran into his left leg while sliding home in a play that all agreed was hard, but clean.

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net

 

 

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