Ryan Ludwick launched an 11th inning home run ball that landed on the grassy incline over the center field fence, the Cardinals narrowly avoiding a heartbreaking loss.
After the Dodgers rallied against reliever’s Ron Villone and Jason Isringhausen to tie the game in the late innings at 4-apiece, Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa had to be wondering where he would get the innings from out his beleaguered bullpen should the game run on toward midnight.
Chris Carpenter made his second start, pitching as well as could be expected for five complete innings, allowing only three hits and no runs. Then the rains came, and although Carpenter may have been able to re-warm after a sit-down of nearly an hour, La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan felt there was no need to push things at this stage. Carpenter’s night was over, but he left with a 4-0 lead.
Adam Kennedy, who was 3-for-6 on the night, singled home Cesar Izturis in the fifth, and in the next Cardinals’ at-bats, pinch-hitting Rick Ankiel brought a second run home the hard way, getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
The Cards failed to do anything else with the bag-jammed situation, but Albert Pujols lent a big bat in the seventh, hammering Dodgers’ reliever Chan Ho Parks’ first pitch into the left-center field seats with Kennedy aboard.
Up 4-0, Brad Thompson started the string of relievers for the Cards that followed with Kyle McClellan, a rookie reliever that some say is being overused already. Both Thompson and McClellan allowed nothing, however.
It wasn’t until left-hander Ron Villone came in that things began to unravel, a familiar and frustrating theme for the crowd at Busch Stadium, most of whom had stayed through a couple of lengthy rain delays. Villone gave up a solo home run to the first Dodger he faced, pinch hitter Andruw Jones.
La Russa brought in closer Jason Isringhausen, and thing really went south. After throwing a ground out, Isringhausen gave up two straight singles to Andre Ethier and Russel Martin, respectively, then walked Manny Ramirez. The walk to Ramirez didn’t break anyone’s heart, as dangerous a hitter as has proven himself.
The next hitter, James Loney, spoiled that theory, hitting a squibber, a ball that rolled slowly up the first base side near the foul line. Isringhausen rushed over, but rushed himself trying to pick up the ball and fumbled it. In defense of Isringhausen, the play would’ve been close. The Nationals were now within two runs 4-2.
Still in a double play situation, Jeff Kent drove a single to right field, scoring Martin and reloading the bases, the tying run on third base in the form of Ramirez.
Casey Blake hit a sacrifice fly to left field, Ramierez tagging and scoring the tying run.
Mark Sweeney then laced a line drive to the right side, but first baseman Pujols snagged it to end an inning that found a soaked Cardinal Nation booing their displeasure from the seats.
Dodgers’ manager Joe Torre went with reliever Cory Wade for the ninth and tenth innings while La Russa showed Ryan Franklin in the tenth and Jaime Garcia in the eleventh.
It was Dodgers’ reliever Jason Johnson whom the Cards took advantage of in the bottom of the eleventh, Ryan Ludwick providing the heroics with Kennedy on base and one out, skyballing a home run onto the grassy knoll past the center field wall.
Ludwick’s walk-off homer brought the entire dugout onto the field to “greet and beat” him once he’d rounded the bases.
The win gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the three-game series with the Dodgers. Additionally, the Cardinals were able to keep pace in the NL Central with both the division-leading Chicago Cubs and second place Milwaukee Brewers both winners earlier.
photo by SD Dirk