Fenway Park was as green as you’ve ever seen it, and not because of the Green Monster. Maybe, however, green with envy over the masterful pitching performance of Kyle Lohse.
The Redbirds’ right-hander picked up his ninth win (9-2) at the expense of the World Champion Boston Red Sox, who, in honor of the Boston Celtics winning the NBA championship a few days earlier, wore green uniforms.
Lohse painted the outside corner of the plate for six innings, keeping the ball low on almost all his other pitches. He didn’t get that corner, however, early on, home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth squeezing him pretty good in the first frame. As the innings went on, however, Lohse got that outside corner, and kept it. There were a few rough spots, namely, in the second innings, when he started off the inning by walking Manny Ramirez. An unusual error by Cesar Izturis allowed Mike Lowell to reach, Ramirez moving up to second base. Lohse did strike out Kevin Youkilis looking, but Coco Crisp singled, loading up the bases. Julio Lugo hit a sacrifice fly to Rick Ankiel, with no chance of throwing out Ramirez at the plate. Kevin Cash grounded out to end the inning, with the Red Sox up 1-0.
The third inning proved challenging to the Cards as well. With two outs, Lohse couldn’t stand prosperity, walking J. D. Drew. Ramirez promptly singled to right field and just like that, the Red Sox were threatening again. Lohse got Lowell, however, to ground out to Troy Glaus at third base.
The Cardinals offense was as dormant as it had been during the I-70 series, this time unable to figure out how to hit the knuckle ball of Tim Wakefield. The fourth inning was even more demoralizing, as the Cardinals threw away a real opportunity. When Ryan Ludwick walked, that was a good start. Ankiel flew out, but Glaus followed with a single to left on which Ludwick advanced to third base. With base runners on the corners, it seemed as if the Cards had put together the beginnings of a decent rally. And when Chris Duncan walked to load the bases, the table was set for Yadier Molina, the Cardinals’ DH in the American League ball park. Moline laced the ball, but lined out to third. Adam Kennedy, who had singled his first time up, and who was specifically placed in the lineup by manager Tony La Russa because of his success against the Red Sox, flew out this time.
Brendan Ryan had to take over for Cesar Izturis, who had to leave the game due to a hamstring-related injury. There was no detailed report immediately available on Izturis’s condition, but any kind of prolonged injury would create a roster dilemma for the Cards should he need several games off.
The Cardinals showed no signs of offensive life, but Lohse breezed through the fourth, just the same.
Leading off the fifth, Jason LaRue surprised everyone with a powerful blast that cleared the green monster, tying the game at 1-1.
Lohse pitched through another tough inning in the fifth, the Red Sox loading the bases again, bringing Ramirez to the plate with one out. Ramirez has 20 career grand slams, second highest all-time for the major leagues. In four pitches, Lohse struck him out looking, freezing him with a curve on that outside corner for the backwards K. Lowell ground out to Ryan at short, who flipped to Kennedy covering second for the easy force.
Two errors on Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo in the sixth gave the Cards their second run, after Ankiel had doubled. An errant throw to first off a Glaus ground ball allowed Ankiel to move to third base. Once more, the Cards had base runners on the corners. The next batter, Chris Duncan, grounded to first baseman, Youkilis, who threw out Glaus at second on a fielder’s choice, but Lugo’s return throw to first base was wild, permitting Ankiel to scamper home with the lead run. The one run was all the Cards could muster.
Lohse did make a mistake in the sixth. With two outs, he got a pitch up in the strike zone to Lugo, who blasted the ball over the green monster and clearing the back fence. Lohse struck out Cash to end the inning, but the Red Sox had tied it up at 2-2.
LaRue started off the seventh with his second hit, giving the Cards another opportunity. Ryan bunted him over to third, but in this instance, the advance didn’t matter, as the next batter, Skip Schumaker, homered into the Red Sox bullpen in right field.
Now up 4-2, La Russa brought in left-hander Randy Flores. Lefties out of the pen (all two of them) continued to have troubles, Flores allowing a single, then walking the next two hitters. La Russa had seen enough, bringing in probably the only available pitcher for the situation, Russ Springer, to face, you guessed it, Mr. Grand Slam, Manny Ramirez. Springer got Ramirez to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, the Cardinals happy to trade a run for the pair of outs. Still in danger with Dustin Pedroia at third base, Springer struck out Lowell to get out of the jam.
Down only one run, the Red Sox brought in Hideki Okajima. The Cards left a couple men on base in the eighth, but not before Molina took his turn at driving one over the green monster.
Still pressed for relief pitching, La Russa went to closer Ryan Franklin in the eighth. Youkilis lead off with a single, but Crisp grounded to Kennedy, who started a successful 4-6-3 double play. Franklin walked Lugo on a pitch that brought a lot of groaning from the Cards battery, a pitch LaRue probably felt Lohse had gotten all night. The base runner put the Cardinals at risk, but pinch-hitter Brandon Moss grounded out to Kennedy to end the inning.
David Aardsma took the hill for the Red Sox in the ninth, striking out Ludwick, Glaus, and Ankiel in order, with a barrage of mid-90s fast balls.
Franklin remained on the mound for the Cards. With one out, Pedroia doulbed. Springer struck out J. D. Drew for a big second out, but then walked Ramirez, bringing the potential winning run to the plate in the form of Lowell. The plot thickened for the Cardinals when Lowell singled to center, Pedroia scoring and the tying run, Ramirez, moving to third base. Youkilis took his shot at the plate, but flew out to Schumaker in right field.
The Cardinals had survived the opening game of a three-game set of interleague play against the Red Sox, winning in Boston, which is no easy feat for anyone, let alone a team traveling with one wheel off the roadster.
Wakefield suffered the loss, his record falling to 4-5. Franklin earned his tenth save.
The Redbirds couldn’t be facing a bigger challenge tonight when they take the field at Fenway Park in Boston to face the reigning World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox are without the services of David Ortiz, but J. D. Drew has filled the void in their three-hole to the point where production has dropped one iota. Kevin Youkilis, Manny Ramirez, and Coco Crisp are questionable for tonight’s game, but it might take the absence of all of them to start talking about how the playing field has leveled out.
As Redbirds fans well know, the injuries and therefore, the DL, have grown to the point where the St. Louis team is getting close to being called Memphis, or maybe even Springfield. Yet there’s still plenty of hope to compete with Boston, even after getting swept by the Royals at home. And a lot of that hope comes in the fact that while the Cards locker room has a revolving door (spin it one way and you get triple-A, spin it the other for double-A), there have been plenty of pleasant surprises in the form of minor league call-ups, including the rookies.
Not every replacement has been outstanding, or even totally ready to compete at the major league level, but it seems as if every player called up has contributed. Each have had some good outings, and a lot of them, in their major league debuts.
If the Red Sox have any difficulties against the Cardinals, it may be due to a lack of tendency charts and other needed scouting reports. That might be expected from an interleague competitor, but the Red Sox shouldn’t feel alone, because a lot of the National League probably feels the same way when it comes to the Redbirds. Forget the fact that manager Tony La Russa changes the lineup so much it would take a computer to figure out a combination he hasn’t used. The Red Sox will have to figure out how to play against players most of either league has ever seen.
And you have to keep in mind that even a lot of the Redbirds’ regulars have just taken on said role this season. For instance, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, Skip Schumaker, or, in other words, the entire outfield, plus bench players. About the only thing any opposing knows for sure when it comes to these guys is that you aren’t taking any extra bases.
The minor league connection threads through the pitching as well, at first, the bullpen, and now it has infected (sometimes in a good way) the starting rotation. As stated, a lot of pleasant surprises, although Cardinal Nation might be less stressed if some of these well-liked players could get a little more experience in the minors before putting everyone on the edge of a cardiac event every time La Russa creates a novel lineup or heads for that mound with a look like the wheels are turning in overdrive.
But since the Cards’ roster listing is changing like the New York Stock Exchange scrolling board, maybe we should quit trying to figure it out and leave that gargantuan task to the Boston Red Sox. Let them have to deal with facing Memphis, Springfield, and St. Louis, all at the same time.