After two less than satisfactory offensive spring outings, the St. Louis Cardinals bats finally woke up at Roger Dean Stadium today to the tune of nine runs total in the 3rd and 4th innings. The Cards quickly got their mainstays out of the lineup in the 5th inning and cruised the rest of the way to register their first win of the spring portion of the schedule, 10-2.
First things first; Houston, you will be missed. In the past two seasons the Cardinals have been feasting in their head to head matchups with the Astros going 21-9, and in the process padding both their National League Central Division record, as well as their overall record, in route to 2 consecutive National League Championship Series appearances. The 2013 Astros appear as though they are once again going to be terrible, and they are going to have a very long year in the American League West Division. Why do the Cardinals have to keep losing things that helped them win to the AL West anyway? First it was Pujols, and now it’s the Astros, but I digress.
Adam Wainwright came out of the chute well today, tossing 2 and 2/3 innings of shutout ball while giving up only 4 hits and striking out 3 of the batters he faced. With the Cardinals clinging to a 1-0 lead in the top of the 3rd, Wainwright got into a bit of a jam, exiting the game with runners on 2nd and 3rd, but last seasons pitcher of the year in the Minor League system, Seth Maness, came in and got the Cardinals out of the inning as Chris Carter decided he wanted to watch the 3rd strike go whizzing past. In total, Maness faced 4 batters and struck out 3 of them, Carter and Maxwell looking, and former Cardinal farmhand Brett Wallace swinging. It was nice to see Maness step up and perform in a high leverage situation while following up the Cardinals Ace.
After Maness took care of business in the top of 3rd the Cardinals hitters decided they wanted to pitch in to the cause and bat around in the bottom of the 3rd plating 5 runs in the process. Kolten Wong led off with a double to get things started, and Matt Holliday hit what was reported by the Astros broadcast team to be a mammoth blast off the Marlins Clubhouse to give the Cards a 3-0 lead. That lead didn’t last long as Allen “The Wrench” Craig took the Astros hurler, Sam Demel, deep for a back to back solo blast pushing the score to 4-0. What followed Craig’s solo shot was a beautiful piece of baseball that I hope continues well into the season. With no one out in the inning yet, Yadi Molina followed up with a single, and chased Demel from the game. Freese stepped in and drove a ball deep to center field which was hauled in by Astros CF, Maxwell, at the wall. Even though the Cards were up 4-0 and this is only the 3rd game of the spring, Yadi tagged up at 1st base and took 2nd base on a late throw back in from Maxwell. Ty Wigginton grounded out to the SS for the 2nd out of the inning, but Yadi once again advanced on the play, putting him on 3rd with 2 outs and “Sugar” Shane Robinson coming to the dish. Robinson came through with an RBI double that just managed to stay inside the RF line, and just like that the Cards had manufactured the much coveted 5 run lead. I truly hope that the young guys on the roster were paying attention to this entire sequence because this is how the game is supposed to be played. Manufacturing runs is a lost art form in the era of the long ball. In this game, every run matters, and the more of them that can be produced without the aid of the home run, the better off your club is going to be in the long run. After this sequence, Kozma came up and smashed a double to CF that caromed off the wall and Robinson scored from second to give the Cards a 6-0 advantage heading in to the 4th inning.
In the bottom half of the 4th inning the Cards kept the hot bats going and pushed 4 more runs across the plate. Kolten Wong singled to lead off the inning. With 1 out, and Allen Craig at the plate, Wong flashed his speed and swiped 2nd base setting up the RBI opportunity which Craig capitalized on by succinctly ripping an RBI single to right field to push the lead to 7-0. Yadi stepped in and roped a single to left center, getting on base for the 3rd time, and Craig went first to third on the play. At this point the route was clearly on, and Matheny began lifting his starters once they reached base for less experienced players. Freese came up, singled to left field, and Craig scored from 3rd to make it 8-0. The final run of the inning came on a Robinson single to right field and the Cards finished the inning up 9-0. In total the Cardinals scored 9 runs on 13 hits during this outburst.
The finish of this game saw Boggs and Motte both throw a scoreless inning, Siegrist labor to give up the first Astros run of the day, and Browning come on to give up the second Astros run of the day. The final Cardinals run came from a Pete Kozma solo HR.
Overall, today was a very successful game in almost all phases for Cardinals, albeit versus a much overmatched, but undefeated in the spring, Astros club. There appear to be very bright days ahead for these Redbirds, and as I said before, the pleasant thing about it all from my perspective was that the Cards didn’t just clog up the base paths waiting for the big fly to bring them home.