06/20/2004 2:33 PM ET
Notes: Redbirds safe at home
Cardinals Busch-whacking after sluggish start
By Alan Eskew / Special to MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Remember the dogged days of April when the Cardinals were getting routinely thumped at Busch Stadium?
|Albert Pujols gets an extra vote this week at first base, if only because he's leading the ballot. (Tom Gannam/AP)
Those days appear to be ancient history.
After losing six of their first seven and nine of their first 12 at home, the Cardinals have returned to pleasing the Busch faithful fans. They entered Sunday with a 7-1 home record during June.
"That's just a freak stat," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of the early home woes. "In the first four-game series, we just didn't pitch well. After that, we didn't hit well."
The Cardinals gave up 30 runs in losing three of four to the Brewers to start the season. The Astros swept the Cardinals in the next three games at Busch, holding St. Louis to nine runs in the series.
"We've got a good team for this ballpark and love playing in front of these fans," La Russa said. "It's [sub-.500 record at Busch] was just one of those stats, a weird thing that happened. If you try to explain it, you'll drive yourself nuts."
Slugging pitcher: Relievers, especially closers, seldom come to the plate, so the Cardinals rarely allow their bullpen to take batting practice swings.
"I have to get a hall pass from Dunc [Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan] every time to take batting practice," closer Jason Isringhausen said. "I ask all the time, but they always say no. I asked the other day and Dunc said, 'Why would I want to let you hit when you could foul a ball off your foot and break it, and then I'd have to answer to someone else as to why I let you hit.' "
Isringhausen, who said he has taken batting practice once this season, contributed a two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning in Saturday's 9-2 triumph over the Reds. He also had a three-run triple on July 26, 2003, against the Pirates.
Winning ways: The Cards, who have won 15 of their past 19 games, entered Sunday with a six-game winning streak.
"I think we have a lot of confidence right now," Cards right-hander Woody Williams said. "Will it keep going like this? No. Sooner or later, we won't play this good."
Williams, however, believes the ability and makeup of the Cardinals will prevent them from a lengthy lull.
"It's contagious," Isringhausen said of the winning. "You start feeling good about yourself and everything just starts falling in place. Other teams come in here and now they are on edge a little bit. They know they have to play good and get good pitching. It makes teams press a little bit."
Williams believes this might be the best Cardinals team since he arrived in 2001.
"I know that speaks high volumes," Williams said. "I knew when we left Spring Training we had a pretty good team. We just didn't start out very well. One thing everybody doubted out of Spring Training was our pitching. We didn't have marquee names -- no pun intended [for fellow starter Jason Marquis], but we have guys who battle and have the ability to pitch late in games."
Lineup shakeup: Even though the Reds started left-hander Jung Bong on Sunday, La Russa had left-handed hitting Ray Lankford in left field, batting seventh.
"Three days in a row he's got big hits for us, so give him a reward," La Russa said.
Shortstop Edgar Renteria, who normally bats sixth, was in the second hole for the 14th time. Mike Matheny, who came off the disabled list on Friday and started but did not play Saturday, was back behind the plate on Sunday.
No contest: For the umpteenth straight year, the Cardinals' kids drubbed their dads in a pregame contest on Father's Day.
The Cards also honored Hall of Famer Lou Brock before the game. The first 30,000 fans received a Lou Brock bobblehead doll, commemorating the 1964 World Series championship. Brock threw out the ceremonial first pitch
Baby 'Birds: Brad Thompson allowed four hits, including two solo home runs, over five innings in a no-decision for Memphis as the Class AAA Redbirds defeated Omaha, 8-7. In his first two Memphis starts, Thompson has allowed 10 hits, walked two and struck out seven in 10 1/3 innings. ... Luis Martinez gave up three runs on five hits, while walking one and striking out eight in seven innings, to earn his sixth victory as the Tennessee Smokies defeated Jacksonville, 5-3, for their ninth straight victory. ... Right-hander Derek Roper, a 32nd-round pick in 2003 out of the University of Missouri, struck out 13 of the 16 batters he faced and allowed a run on two hits over five innings as New Jersey won, 3-1, over Hudson Valley.
Alan Eskew is a contributing writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.