Tagged: Rick Ankiel

Ankiel’s scary moment

Suddenly, in the eighth inning, the game that means so much to so many meant nothing at all when the Cardinals’ center fielder Rick Ankiel lost his balance making a great catch, crashing head first into the left center field wall.
Ankiel  -- photo by Barbara Moore.jpgAnkiel’s neck twisted viciously upon contact, the full weight of his body instantly halted from a forward running stumble. The outfielder crumpled onto this back, his body already motionless as he lay on the dirt of the outfield warning track, the ball, which he had somehow transferred to his throwing hand after the catch, just then dribbling off his fingertips.

Fellow outfielder, Chris Duncan raced toward the scene, his steps and mannerisms suggesting he was conflicted as to whether to instinctively go after the baseball or assist his downed teammate. Even as Duncan scooped up the ball with his gloved left hand, his right hand was gently clutching a bit of Ankiel’s jersey, saying something before continuing the play.

A loud Ewww sounded from the crowd, followed by a silence you only hear at Busch Stadium before the bulk of Cardinal Nation arrives on game day. Eerie, uncomfortable, the audible emptiness replaced by the lingering gut-wretch of witnessing the obvious injury.

Simultaneously scary and sickening, for everyone, including the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, whose dugout was filled with players riveted at the gathering of Cardinals players and coaches around their fallen teammate. Most of those in attendance stood for nearly twenty minutes, distracted only briefly by the Cardinals’ trainer racing across the field to Ankiel’s aid, then the team’s doctor coming onto the scene, then later, when staff drove out a motorized cart loaded with a backboard stretcher.

And then, after what seemed like an eternity of anguishing minutes, the cart was rolling toward the right field exit with medical staff and Ankiel aboard.

A moment of relief was then provided by Ankiel himself as he was driven through right field, when he lifted his left hand, giving a thumb’s up. The movement and the gesture broke an almost unbearable anxiety, but as Ankiel and staff disappeared under the right field seats, Cardinal Nation was left with a lingering concern over Ankiel’s well-being.

Before that, events that seemed like a distant memory from some other game: Lohse had pitched well, then struggled, Ryan Howard hat hit a grand slam, and Tyler Greene had made a sensational play at shortstop.

Ankiel also made a sensational play, but all anyone cared about was obtaining any scrap of post-game information regarding his condition.

At the time of this posting, x-rays and CT scans upon Ankiel were all reported as negative by the St. Louis Cardinals. Good news, so far.

But somehow, no matter what is reported to Cardinal Nation, the unease will continue until all can see that Rick Ankiel is okay.

photo by Barbara Moore

4thebirds…LIVE! Phillies vs. Cardinals 8/3/08

Wellemeyer kicks into offense, joins Pujols’ show in series winner

The Cards took the Padres series a game early, starter Todd Wellemeyer getting plenty of help from the offense; including his own contribution, a single and a run scored. Wellemeyer’s record improves to 8-4. Ryan Franklin, one of four relief pitchers, earned his 14th, save. Ron Villone was credited with a hold.

Down 5-0 early in the second inning, Wellemeyer struggled, then settled down, then battled, trying to make certain manager Tony La Russa didn’t have to go to his bullpen early. At the same time, La Russa sent a clear message to Wellemeyer that he was going to have to pitch deeper into the game by leaving him in to bat leadoff in the bottom of the fifth.

Wellemeyer delivered at the plate, too, with a single to right. After a Brendan Ryan strikeout, Skip Schumaker walked, and the Cards had a change to chip off some of the Padres’ five-run lead. Ryan Ludwick singled, third base coach Jose Oquendo holding up Wellemeyer at third, the bases now loaded with Cardinals.

Albert Pujols delivered, scorching a Randy Wolf pitch to the wall in left-center field, clearing the bases and bringing the Cards within two runs at 5-3. With two outs, Rick Ankiel singled home Pujols to make it 5-4.

An inning later, Wellemeyer took part in the next phase of the Cardinals comeback, sacrfice bunting Cesar Izturis into scoring position after he’d reached on an infield single. Padres’ third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff helped out the cause, throwing a Brendan Ryan ground ball over the head of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Izturis advancing to third and Ryan scampering on to second.

Schumaker brought Izturis home with a ground ball to tie up the game at 5-5. After Ryan advanced to third base on a wild pitch, Ludwick walked. Pujols then collected his fourth RBI on the day, singling home Ryan with the go-ahead run.

La Russa called on his bullpen after Wellemeyer had secured one out in the seventh, a strikeout of pinch-hitter Scott Hairston. The move was questionable, with Wellemeyer only in the 80s on pitch count (he’d gone 120 two games earlier) and showing no signs of considerable fatigue. Randy Flores got the call, however, specifically to face lefthanded swinger, Jody Gerut. Flores walked Gerut, though a couple of the ball-strike calls seemed to favor the Padres’ regular leadoff man.

La Russa went to Russ Springer, who gave up back to back singles to Edgar Gonzalez and Brian Giles, respectively. On came reliever number three, Ron Villone, especially to face Adrian Gonzalez. Villone fared better than Flores on his lefty-lefty matchup, striking out A. Gonzalez by spotting a fast ball on the outside corner, getting the Padres’ three-hole hitter looking. Villone then got cleanup hitter Kevin Kouzmanoff to fly out to Ankiel in center.

Ryan Franklin took over to start the eighth, La Russa sticking with him instead of going with Jason Isringhausen in a closer’s role in the ninth. The top of the Padres’ order went down one-two-three, the Cardinals securing a 6-5 win.

Three more homers with a side of Molina-style “RiBIes”

2501334222_d53bc0a8f0_m-maddux-photo by SD Dirk.jpgAfter last night’s game, Cardinal Nation might prefer their next helping of “ribbies” done Molina-style. The Cards’ catcher so well-known throughout the majors for his reluctance to strike out proved the contact hitting produced by the skill can mean more than hitting into inning-ending double plays.

Indeed, Molina’s ability to put bat to ball can also have the effect of making things happen. For instance, a two-RBI single. Molina’s “ribbies” gave the Cardinals the go-ahead runs, breaking a 7-7 tie in the eighth inning.

The recently red hot bats of the St. Louis Cardinals overshadowed a weak outing by starter Braden Looper in a game that saw 18 runs on 29 hits, a slugfest which ended with the Padres outdone for the second night in a row.

Starting Padres’ pitcher Greg Maddux only lasted one inning longer than Looper at four, leaving the game when it was tied at 6-all. With both starters out early, each team used five relievers to get through the balance of the game. Kyle McClellan (2-4) would end up with the win, while the Padres’ Heath Bell was charged with the loss.

The Cardinals drew first blood when Rick Ankiel singled home both Albert Pujols and Troy Glaus in the first inning, the Cards ahead 2-0.

Looper was up on a lot of his pitches, becoming more inefficient with each inning he threw. The Padres did not score in the first, but got on the board in the second on a grapefruit pitch that the season-long struggling Khalil Greene drove to the opposite field, a first row shot in right, luckily, with no one on base.

With a 2-1 score, nothing was out of control, but Looper continued to struggle. To help himself along, he sacrifce bunted Cesar Izturis to second base in the second inning. Izturis took the next base on his own, stealing thrid. Brendan Ryan then got Izturis home on an infield ground out.

The 3-1 lead wouldn’t last long. In the next inning, Looper asked for trouble when he hit Edgar Gonzalez with a pitch. The Padres’ Brian Giles, Adrian Gonzalez, and Kevin Kouzmanoff then punished Looper and the Cards with back to back to back singles, the trio of basehits collectively producing a couple runs and tying the game at 3-each.

The Padres continued the hit parade in the fourth after Maddux held the Cards scoreless. On a play that saw two Cardinals known for their outstanding defensive skills each commit a throwing error, for those moments, the Busch Stadium crowd might’ve thought they were at a youth league game. With Padres’ Nick Hundley on second, Maddux laid down a bunt which Molina pounced upon and fired to Glaus at third. Except that Molina’s throw was nowhere near Glaus, shooting into left field where Skip Schumaker scooped it up and threw home in a belated attempt to get Hundley at the plate. Albert Pujols cut off Schumaker’s throw, however, spinning and firing to Cesar Izturis covering second when Maddux tried to advance on Schumaker’s throw home. Pujols’ throw went wide, the ball shooting into center field where Rick Ankiel scooped it up and fired to third base in an attempt to stop Maddux from advancing once more, another belated throw that Glaus had to block in order to halt the circus production. The Padres took a 4-3 lead on a play that had to have had the TV camera crew in a frenzy.

Looper’s problems didn’t end there, though. With Maddux on third base after laying down a sac-bunt, the Padres’ leadoff man, Jody Gerut, jacked one into the right field seats, stunning the haphazard Cardinals, the Padres taking full advantage of the Cardinals’ defensive miscues as well as Looper’s difficulties on the hill. Now up 6-3, the Padres were praying that Cards’ manager Tony La Russa would leave Looper on the mound.

La Russa had seen enough, however, having stuck with his starter as long as he could have under the circumstances. La Russa brought Brad Thompson from the bullpen, the called up and sent down pitcher that had proven himself on both the major league and Triple-A levels in recent weeks. Willing to take on any role La Russa had for him, Thompson had, out of circumstance, formulated into a middle relief specialist. He would fill that role last night, working two-and-a-third innings, giving up one run while striking out four. The lead may have swung back to the Padres during Thompson’s relief appearance, but only by one run at 7-6, keeping the Cardinals well within striking distance and getting them far enough into the game where La Russa could pick and choose his relievers in a more strategic and efficient manner.

What had also helped keep the Cardinals in the game was a three-run homer in the fourth by Ryan Ludwick. The three-RBI round-tripper was made possible by a couple of two-out singles, one by Brendan Ryan, followed by Schumaker.

In the seventh, Ankiel hit his 22nd homer of the season, a blast that cleared the right field bullpen by six or seven rows. The solo shot tied the game at 7-7.

The go-ahead hit came in the eighth, when Molina punched an outside pitch off the glove of Padres’ second baseman Edgar Gonzalez, the ball rolling on into right field. The bases were loaded at the time, due to a Pujols single, a Glaus walk, and an Ankiel infield single on which Padres’ pitcher Heath Bell failed to cover first base in time.

Ankiel was later thrown out at home on a disputed play in which Padres’ catcher Nick Hundley may missed the tag. Nonetheless, the called out stood. Chris Duncan supplied a pinch hit single, however, bringing home Molina to make it 10-7.

Aaron Miles provided another pitch hit, scoring Izturis and putting up an insurance run, the score 11-7, how the game would finish.

The bullpen held up much better last night, La Russa using, in order after pulling Looper: Thompson, Villone, Springer, McClellan, and Isringhausen. Villone worked from within an inning, two outs worth. The latter relievers each worked one full inning.

Regardless of who was in any particular spot in the lineup, the Cardinals got at least one hit out of every lineup position.

Izturis stole two bases, leading the team with 10.

Pujols went 3-for-4 with a walk, his only out a scortched line drive caught in center field. Pujols’ .354 average is tops on the team.

The defensive play of the game was Ron Villone’s falling, sprawling reception while covering first base to complete a double play.

The Cardinals now lead the four-game home series with the Padres, 2-0.

photo by SD Dirk

Lohse wins 11th, Garcia makes ML debut, combo shutout of Bucs

2521332524_5592ae4b64-lohsesequence-photo by Iscan.jpgKyle Lohse, who some believe should have been named to the National League All-Star team, continued to roll through the innings, painting the corners staying out of any significant jams.

Pitching seven complete, Lohse scattered six hits and walked only one Buc batter while striking out three. His record is now 11-2.

Lohse had plenty of offense, something that never materialized in the last three games in Philadelphia.

The bulk of the Redbirds’ run came in the third. With two outs, Albert Pujols and Troy Glaus had back to back singles, followed by a Yadier Molina double that brought them both home. Molina took an extra base, scampering to third when the Pirates attempted to throw out Glaus at home. Rick Ankiel then got extended on a Zack Duke mistake pitch up, driving into the left-center field seats for a two run dinger, putting the Cards up 4-0.

Recently elected (by the players) All-Star Ryan Ludwick added to the Cards’ lead in the fourth with a solo blast to left field.

Lohse kept the Pirates off balance through all of but one of his innings on the hill, running into trouble in the fifth when Xavier Nady, Adam LaRoche, and Jose Bautista hit back to back to back singles, loading the bases with one out. To get out of the jam, Lohse had to pick on Bucs’ pitcher Duke, striking him out before Jack Wilson gave his heart a start with a line drive that found a perfectly positioned Cesar Izturis at shortstop.

Ankiel added a third RBI when he singled home Pujols in the seventh.

Up 6-0 after seven complete innings, manager Tony La Russa brought in recent call-up Jaime Garcia out of the bullpen. Garcia, a lefthander, was activated when Mark Mulder went on the DL. Before getting the call to join the Cardinals on this road trip, Garcia was about to join the World Team for participation the Futures Game, but once he hit the hill, he was no longer eligible to play on the prospect-filled Futures roster.

Garcia’s first hitter, Ryan Doumit, singled. But Garcia then recorded his first strikeout, victimizing Jason Bay. The rookie hurler broke Xavier Nady’s bat in two, then gloved his low-level popup. Adam LaRoche flew out to Ryan Ludwick in right, and Garcia showed well in his first major league inning.

Things weren’t so easy for Garcia in the Pirates’ ninth. The 22-year-old from Mexico found out how nerve-racking an inning can get, and in a hurry, when he threw eight straight balls, walking Jose Bautista, and then letting have second base on a wild pitch. Pitching coach Dave Duncan then got to witness the rookie work through the inning after self-imposing a potential jam. Garcia buckled down, striking out pinch-hitter Chris Gomez. Jack Wilson hit a line drive, but close enough for Skip Schumaker to snag in center field. All-Star Nate McClouth then popped out behind home plate to Yadier Molina to end the game.

Garcia pitched two complete innings, contributing to a the Cardinals win and strengthening the bullpen with a mixed performance of command, what appeared to be a loss of concentration, then a re-focusing on the demands of the inning batter by batter.

The Cardinals play the Pirates twice more before the All-Star break.

There is an outside chance that Lohse could still get a chance to participate, in the case where some of the chosen pitchers are pitching in the next couple of days, and wouldn’t have enough rest to pitch again a couple or three days later at Yankee Stadium in the Midsummer Classic.

photo by Iscan

Pineiro wins, finally

626343995_f9aa1ee138_m-pujols&howard-photo by Barbara Moore.jpgIt has been over two months since the last time Joel Pineiro recorded a victory. Tonight, however, was his turn–finally.

Certainly, he was taking nothing for granted as he sat on the bench after being lifted after 6 1/3 innings pitched. Not that he doesn’t trust the bullpen, that has seen its share of blown saves this year, but the fact that the Cardinals were clinging to a two-run lead would’ve made any starter nervous.

Pineiro’s match-up, the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, was stingy with the hits in his seven full innings on the hill, giving up only three hits. Hamels walked no one while striking out eight. In most other games, Hamels’ performance would’ve been plenty good enough for a win.

Two out of the three hits given up by Hamels, however, were home runs, one from Rick Ankiel and the other from All-Star Ryan Ludwick. Both shots were of the solo variety, but they were all that was needed to help Pineiro improve his record to 3-4.

The Cards’ bullpen did its share as well, RonVillone coming on the the seventh and getting a double play to get out of the inning. Kyle McClellan came on to work the eighth, allowing no one to reach base. Manager Tony La Russa then called upon closer Ryan Franklin, who gave up a one-out single to Ryan Howard. The Phillies’ slugger died on first base, however, and Franklin picked up his 12th save in the shutout victory.

Pineiro’s outing was as good as he’s had all year, his defense helping him out with a couple double plays, Villone picking up a third off of base runners Pineiro had let on. Pineiro helped himself and catcher Yadier Molina immensely when he picked off Shane Victorino. Usually it’s Molina that helps out the pitchers with pesky base runners.

Of concern is that Albert Pujols went 0-for-3 and Troy Glaus, 0-for-4. Ludwick and Ankiel have enjoyed the fruits of batting, let’s say, near Pujols, getting many better pitches than they might if a weaker hitter was in the three-hole. Lately, Glaus hasn’t just cooled off, but downright chilled down to 0-for-his-last-19 ABs. You might look for La Russa to push Ludwick into the cleanup slot and Glaus to fifth.

The victory finds the Cardinals maintaining the NL’s best road record as well as giving them their 51st win.

photo by Barbara Moore

Cubs series good yardstick to measures needs

If there’s anything good to take away from the series loss to the Chicago Cubs, it is that the Cards can use the series as a yardstick to measures just what they need to improve on, and how much.

Obviously, the Cards extra-basehit approach has given them a lot of wins. Can’t argue that. But the balance might be a bit on the muscular side, so to speak. The big-hitter two-hole thing is a case in point. La Russa can make that strategy work because of how he slots the pitcher in the lineup, but too much power leads to streaky offense.

The balance of power is something from which the Cards can take a lesson from the Cubs. The Cubs are constantly threatening to score a run, almost every inning, because they put that inning leadoff batter or the next batter on base with one out. Do that enough and you’re going to score runs. Not always the big inning, but runs just the same. And the amount of constant pressure that puts on the opposing pitcher is worth its weight in innings.

Of course, you can’t just order: “Score more runs.” But an evaluation of how a couple more contact hitters might impact the lineup might be in order. At least such an investigation, or experiment, is worth a try, considering it has to be a record of some kind how many different lineups La Russa has used this season.

Because there’s no place to fit in the extra contact hitter due to the makeup of positioning, if any of the power-strokers are good enough with a bat to do what the Cubs hitters do when there down in the count, they ought to feel free. And what we’re talking about here is putting the ball in play versus the big whiff. Believe it or not, one could argue that this is the exact strategy that Ankiel employed in his walk-off single on Saturday. Where normally, Ankiel works for the big hit (which is okay, it is what his swing and lineup position demand), he seemed to have shortened up just enough for control, and the results gave the Cards a win.

The Cards have some guys who can slap-hit and work the left-right and bunt in the forms of Izturis, Miles, Ryan, Kennedy, and even Molina. So what we’re after here is for players like Glaus, Duncan, Ludwick, and Ankiel to keep the pressure on the defense. This is one of the reasons Pujols hits for such a high average and power, too. His ability to work the ball where it’s pitched when he’s down in the count gives him the skills of the slap and contact hitters, but with the ever-present danger of his power at the ready to blast anything that floats in as a mistake pitch. Up in count, power, down in count, contact.

The strategy is arguable, and is not what has gotten the Cards to there current state in the NL Central and in the league as a whole. But what we’re trying to measure, here, after getting handled in both of the losses to the Cubs, is what is necessary to beat them, as they will certainly be one of teams to which the Cardinals will have to measure up to in the second half.

You have to look at these types of strategies, which also require working a skill-set, when both the good and weak pitchers of the opposing staff(s) are equally efficient at handling the middle of your lineup. This is asking a lot, to be sure, but if not this strategy, some other, because it’s going to take a lot to come out on top of the NL Central, or even to go after the Wild Card.

When you hear about a team holding onto first place through thick and thin, good times and bad, you can only ask: “How are they doing that?”

When you get a chance to play them, and they beat you two out of three battle you down to the last in their only loss, you don’t have to ask how they do it, because you know, you experience it.

The feast-or-famine offense can be awesome, but it can place one heckuva strain on a pitching staff, and that may be something the Cardinals cannot survive much longer.

So this yardstick is a measuring tool, and it doesn’t mean you have to do exactly what they do, because your team’s makeup might not be condusave to what works for them. But the yardstick measuring who is best is something you cannot ignore. You must find a way, their way, your way, some way to compete on that level. It requires risk and working for new strategies and skills. Sometimes they blow up in your face, and sometimes they put you in contention. When you can finally measure where you are as a team, however, and it becomes obvious some things need to be analyzed, you are behooved to act.

Ankiel’s walk-off basehit helps Cards even series with Cubs

2393604979_5277fcfb0a_m-ankiel-photo by Barbara Moore.jpg

The Cardinals best pitcher to date, Kyle Lohse, was called upon to hold the Cubs down while his own team’s offense tried to wake up.

The Cubs sent a lefhander to the hill, Ted Lilly, to make sure the Cardinals’ offense remained sleepy.

Much like last night’s game, but with a lot less hype, both pitcher’s commenced to duel. The Cubs struck with the long ball, Mark DeRosa reaching a full-count breaking ball low and away, getting enough barrel to loft it into the right-center field bleachers for a 1-0 lead.

Two innings later, in the fifth, DeRosa hammered Lohse again, this time a triple. DeRosa then scored the Cubs second run off of Ryan Theriot’s RBI-basehit.

Lilly continued to cruise, offering tons of off-speed and spotting everything in the known weak areas of each Cardinals’ hitter.

Rick Ankiel broke the ice of the Cardinals, driving a Lilly fastball (one of the few he’d thrown) that zone into Ankiel’s wheelhouse. The homer was Ankiel’s 17th, tying him for the club lead with Albert Pujols, who followed up the homer with a long fly ball that got to the left-center field wall before either DeRosa or Jim Edmonds could catch up. With Pujols in scoring position on second base, Lilly then struck out Troy Glaus for the third time. Pujols caught Lilly sleeping as Ryan Ludwick fell behind in the count, stealing third base when the Cubs’ pitcher seemed to forget all about him leading off second base. Ludwick pulled a two-strike pitch down the third base line for a double, Pujols making sure Aramis Ramirez didn’t glove the ball shooting past before he took off for home.

Now a tie ball game at 2-apiece, Neal Cotts came on in relief for Lilly to start the seventh inning, allowing no Cardinals base runners

Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa countered with reliever Ryan Franklin, who had been closing games during the last several weeks when Jason Isringhausen had difficulties with the rigors of the job. Derrek Lee jumped Franklin, doubling to deep left field. Ramirez then cranked one out to left, and just like that, the Cubs had their two-run lead back.

The lead would have been three, save for a semi-rainbow out of right field by Ludwick to an awaiting Molina a home plate. With no sign of fearing an oncoming base runner, Moline blocked off a sliding Edmonds, slapping a tag on his helmet as he slid past.

Cubs’ manager Lou Piniella called upon his closer, Kerry Wood, to shut down the Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth.

The Cardinals did something they’ve had a tremendously hard time doing so far in the series; they got their leadoff man of an inning on base. In this case, it came in form of Ryan Ludwick. Molina wasn’t in any hurry to help Wood, who was having a bit of trouble finding the zone with his mid-90s fastballs. Molina drew a walk, becoming the potential tying run.

Representing the potential winning run, Adam Kennedy might’ve fooled everyone in the park when he took a cut at the first Wood offering, a unlikely move considering Wood had just walked two batters. Kennedy’s drive shot past Lee at first base, who earlier had made two sliding catches. Ludwick scrambled in easily from second base, but third base coach Jose Oquendo wisely held up Molina at third base.

Piniella had pinch-hitter Chris Duncan intentionally walked to load the bases. Skip Schumaker hit a grounder to Ramirez at third, who fired home to force out Molina. The pivot and throw to first base was nowhere near quick enough to double up the fleet Schumaker. There was only one out, with the bases yet loaded, but this left the Cubs with a chance for a double play to end the game.

Pinch-hitter Aaron Miles popped out to Theriot, and the Cards were down to their last out.

Ankiel found a hittable pitch, up and bit away, and instead of trying to pull hard, his usual swing, he drove the ball more toward the middle, accomplished a walk-off single when Kennedy and Duncan scored the tying and winning runs, respectively.

Kyle McClellan picked up the victory, improving his record to 1-3.

The thrilling 5-4 victory for the Busch Stadium crowd and Cardinal Nation evened the series and proved the Cardinals could compete with the NL Central’s and leagues best team.

photo by Barbara Moore