Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Game Report: Pirates vs. Cardinals - Marquis Mark

Last night I went back to PNC Park to hang out with an old friend of mine who might be moving to Seattle soon. So, the good part is, I had a blast at the game catching up with him and talking up how great Seattle is and all, but the bad part is, I didn't really pay exceptionally close attention to the game at times. I mean, sure, I kept score, but I have a remarkably sparse page of notes to accompany it.

We got there at about 6:30 and were able to get seats about 20 rows behind home plate, as usual. I took some pictures of the Cardinals warming up (I don't actually have photo editing stuff on this laptop, so I'll just post some pictures when I get back to Seattle if any of them came out), and Scott Rolen and So Taguchi even were signing stuff on the way back to the dugout, but I didn't bother running up to bug them. I almost hoped I'd catch Scott Spiezio warming up so I could yell something like "YOU SUCK, SANDFROG!" but he wasn't out there. Yet.

Anyway, we watched as the Cardinals beat the Pirates 2-1, in what was a much closer game than we were expecting. Paul Maholm, another one of the young lefties in the Pirates' rotation, was starting for the Pirates, and Jason Marquis, one of my favorite NL pitchers, was starting for the Cardinals. I like Jason Marquis because he's a pitcher who can actually hit -- and since I live in an AL town now, that feels like an even more rare and wonderful thing. Like any lefty hitter, though, he does hit righty pitchers better, and he had some trouble hitting against Maholm.

Some context for the game might include Sunday's game where the Cardinals beat the Reds 8-7. In addition to it being Bronson Arroyo's first game where he wasn't Superman -- he went 5 innings and gave up 5 runs, and also didn't hit a home run himself this time -- it was also notable that Albert Pujols got home runs in three consecutive at-bats, which is just insane, including the 9th inning where Jason Marquis had come up to pinch-hit and got a single, and so Pujols's homer there scored the game-winning runs.

Anyway, the reason this is important is because in the first inning of the Monday game against the Pirates, the Cardinals started off with a similar bang. Taguchi got an infield single when Jack Wilson couldn't quite get a stop on the ball, and immediately after that, Pujols hit another home run into deep center field -- I'm guessing it went about 440 feet, into the shrubbery which spells out "Pirates" beyond the centerfield wall. So 3 batters into the game, the Cards were up 2-0, and Pujols had homered in four consecutive at-bats over two days.

The Pirates didn't threaten much -- infact, for the first seven innings, only two Pirates even reached base. Jason Bay walked in the first inning, and Chris Duffy got an "infield single" in the 3rd which could have easily been ruled an error, as he hit it up the right side of the infield, and Jason Marquis reached down to grab it while running towards first, but it went through his glove so to speak, and so Marquis ran to cover the bag and Pujols ran in to try to recover the ball, and he got it, but not in time to get Duffy at first. I'm not sure whether that'd be called an error most places anyway. Aside from that, and from Jason Bay nearly killing David Eckstein with a flying bat in the 4th, and a really questionable call in the 6th when it looked like Luna had thrown the ball high enough to get Pujols off the bag and Jack Wilson should have been safe but was called out anyway... that's about it for the first seven innings of Pirate "batting".

Jason Marquis was pitching quite well and really hitting his spots, and although he didn't strike out many guys (his final line for the evening was 8 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 2 K), he pretty much owned the Pirates lineup. In the eighth inning, Jose Castillo (!) hit a huge ground rule double to right center field, one of those big bouncy hits which bounced into the stands (and for some reason was thrown back). The catcher Ronny Paulino was playing in his third MLB game ever, having just been called up from Indianapolis to replace Ryan Doumit, who went on the DL with a strained hamstring. And Paulino grounded out. However, Nate McLouth came up to pinch-hit for Saloman Torres, who was pitching at that point, and McLouth hit a huge single to center field and Castillo scored! Wheeeee! That made the score 2-1 Cardinals, but Chris Duffy flied out to center after that to end the inning.

Now, to be fair, the Cardinals didn't actually score a run after the first inning either, being as I just mentioned it was 2-1 in the eighth. Also, despite the Cardinals lineup being mostly right-handed, Paul Maholm did a pretty good job disposing of them, as did Torres and Gonzo (and Gonzo is also an LHP. Hell, half the Pirates pitching staff are left-handed). The only time it was really close was in the 5th inning, where Taguchi hit an infield single after Eckstein popped out. Since Pujols had already hit a homer and a double, Maholm nibbled at the corners until Pujols walked, and I can't blame him. Rolen hit a liner to left field, and Jason Bay caught it, and nearly caught Taguchi back at second as well, since neither Taguchi nor Pujols had tagged up. Encarnacion was then hit by a pitch, which loaded the bases, and Yadier Molina was up to bat. Molina's at-bat took an eternity, I swear. It went to a full count, and then this one pitch came way inside -- infact, Maholm was pitching guys way inside most of the day -- and we could have sworn it hit Molina, but apparently it didn't. That was good, because hitting him would have brought in a run. A bit later he grounded out to third to end the inning.

Gonzo took out the Cardinals in their half of the 9th, and despite Jack Wilson leading off the Pirates' 9th with a double, Jason Isringhausen annhilated the next three guys, striking out Jason Bay and Jeromy Burnitz and getting Craig Wilson to ground out to second. Bay and Burnitz got a lot of called strikes which totally did not look like strikes to us -- all over the frame of the zone, some high, some low, lots inside, but oh well. The game was over and the Cardinals won it 2-1.

It was really a pretty close game all things considered -- last year, when I went to a Monday night Cardinals-Pirates game in April, it was 2-1 Cards going into the 9th inning, and it was 11-1 Cards coming out of the 9th inning. Infact, the friend I went to this game with had also been in our group at that Cards game last year. So I joked how funny it'd be if they repeated that performance, but fortunately, they didn't.

Scott Spiezio came out to pinch-hit for Jason Marquis in the 9th inning, and I was like "Yay!! I was hoping I'd get to see Scott Spiezio strike out today!!" And sure enough, THREE PITCHES LATER, he struck out. At least it's one bright spot in the day to remember how great it is that Spiezio is no longer playing for the Mariners.

Jason Bay made some really nice plays during the game, though. In the 7th, when Taguchi got on base via a Jack Wilson error (man, the guy had two infield singles to short, and one error shortstop -- by the way, Taguchi is FAST, especially for a 36-year-old guy, I almost think he's faster than Ichiro these days), Scott Rolen followed it with a single to left which barely landed a few feet in front of Jason Bay. Taguchi rounded second and headed for third, and Jason Bay absolutely nailed him at the bag. It was sweet. Then in the 8th, Skip Schumaker hit a fly ball way out into right field, and it looked sure to land for a single or double, but Jason Bay ran to get it and got the ball, falling over into a somersault, but when he came up, he still had the ball, and it was an out! I must say, it's really not hard to be a huge Jason Bay fan -- he's just a great guy.

Anyway, I'm heading down to PNC again tomorrow afternoon for another Pirates-Cardinals game, and that'll be it for baseball games this trip. Still, it's been fun getting to hang out in PNC and catch up with old friends. Chris Carpenter is starting for the Cards tomorrow though, which means it could be a pretty painful game to watch.

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