LOUIS – It's
games like this that make you think something special just might be getting
ready to happen to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Trailing 4-0 in the eighth inning after mustering just two hits in the first seven innings, the Cardinals appeared ready to waste another chance at sweeping a team out of town. But featuring a makeshift lineup that employed two rookies, a back-up catcher and four batting averages under .200, the Cardinals wrote another chapter in what they hope turns out to be a storybook season.
The improbable comeback featured three runs in the eighth and two more off All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton in the ninth to give the Cardinals a 5-4 win Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium.
The win was their fourth straight to start the second half and fifth in a row overall. It moved the Cardinals to a season-high 10 games over .500, but more importantly returned them to first place in the National League Central Division.
"I honestly don't know what to say," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "You fall behind, it's such a difficult day out there. When you get behind those games, it so hard. I was even thinking when we were down 4-0 and we had a couple of chances, I said this was a heck of an effort. It was a heck of an effort and it got better and better. You can't give them enough credit for how they hung in there."
After getting just one hit off Dodgers starter Vincente Padilla in six innings, the Cardinals went to work against the Dodgers bullpen. Trailing 4-0 in the eighth, rookie Allen Craig finally put the Cardinals offense on the board with a double down the left-field line that scored two runs. On his 26th birthday, Craig was just getting started.
The Dodgers went to Broxton with one out in the eighth to protect the two run lead, but Randy Winn reached the closer for an RBI single to right that made it 4-3. Broxton needed 17 pitches to get two outs in the eighth, setting up what turned out to be a 44-pitch outing for the big right-hander.
Yadier Molina, who came into the game to catch in the ninth inning, started the ninth with a single and advanced to second base on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Brendan Ryan. After a flyout by Felipe Lopez and a walk to Jon Jay, Craig made it a birthday he won't soon forget.
Making a rare start at first base in place of Albert Pujols, Craig fell behind in the count to the hard throwing Broxton. But after evening the count at two balls and two strikes, the rookie lined a 98 miles-per-hour fastball back up the middle to score Molina and tie the game.
"I knew he was going to have to come at me because there were runners on and Matt (Holliday) was on deck," Craig said. "His best pitch is his fastball so I was just trying to time it and hit a line drive somewhere and knock him in. He's real tough. I mean he's throwing 100 miles per hour up in the zone. You have to really try to get on top of it. He's one of the best in the game.
Said La Russa: "Allen did what he's been doing in the minor leagues. He's a tough RBI machine. He has really good at-bats with men on base, we've seen it for ourselves in spring training. He had a great game."
With Broxton now over the 40-pitch mark and in his second inning of work, Holliday confirmed the unthinkable with a single down the right-field line that eluded the glove of Andre Ethier. Jay scored as the club ran onto the field to mob Holliday in the infield.
"That was probably the best at-bat he's had in our uniform," La Russa said. "I mean I don't think Joe (Torre) had any other way to play it. He was going to ask him to get a couple outs in the eighth and by the time he got to those last three hitters, he was already at 40 pitches, and its hot.
"Anytime you use your closer in the eighth, that's a real difficult assignment. He's definitely capable of pulling it off, but like I said, the effort continued from beginning to end - just a great effort."
The Dodgers could do nothing but slowly walk off the field to get ready for what was surely a long and quiet flight back to
"Unbelievable win," Craig said. "Tony talked to us about starting the second half strong and what better way to do that than to sweep the Dodgers. Today was kind of a little bit of a lethargic day starting off, they took the lead, and that says a lot about our team to come back and win a game like that. It's real hard out there, it's the fourth game of the series after we've won three, it was big for us."
Ryan was on base three times before the bunt, singling in the third and walking in the sixth and eighth. Like several of his teammates, Ryan was on the top step of the dugout cheering with every pitch as the comeback developed.
When Holliday's hit landed safely in right and all was said and done, the Cardinals were back in first place for the first time since June 24.
"When Craiger' got that hit, I screamed so loud I almost fainted right there," Ryan said. "I didn't have much left I the tank after all those attempted steals. I ended up having to sit down and put my head down for a second because I was seeing those silver stars and stuff. But it was too exciting of a win to not go crazy.
"Off a closer like that, we'll take it. That made it even more sweet. We're on our heels there and you got Broxton in the game, one of the best closers. We just kind of scratched and put some things together. It was a nice win."
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