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06 April 2011

Cardinals McClellan Does Good, Pujols Clutch in Win

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle McClellan took the ball at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night.  This night was a little different for the career reliever - this time the his name was called with no outs in the first inning.  The hometown boy from suburban Florissant MO made his first big league start after spending three years as a bullpen stalwart.

Perhaps showing a bit of understandable excitement and nervousness, McClellan gave up a lead off double to Jose Tabata, but recovered to strike out the next two Bucs batters before making his one singular bad pitch of the game to Lyle Overbay - a 421-foot home run to stake the Pirates to a 2-0 lead.  McClellan shrugged that shot off to strike out Pedro Alvarez to end the inning.

McClellan Settled In
After that, McClellan was sharp.  He kept the Pirate batters off balance with his variety of pitches, changing speed, and location that lead to 7 strikeouts in his 6 innings.  McClellan avoided trouble until the sixth inning when Andrew McCutcheon and Lyle Overbay stroked back to back one-out singles.  Facing what would ultimately be his last batter, McClellan induced Pedro Alvarez to ground into the double play.

McClellan's work was over after that, leaving with the score tied 2-2.  He scattered six hits while issuing only one walk and striking out seven.  Perhaps the strikeouts took a toll on his efficiency as he needed 95 pitches to complete his six innings of work.  But clearly McClellan showed what pitching coach Dave Duncan has said for a while - McClellan will be a solid starting pitcher.

Bats Don't Help McClellan
Meanwhile, McClellan needed to be sharp as the Cardinals batsman failed to do enough to get him the 'W' he deserved.  In the bottom of the first, Colby Rasmus and Albert Pujols drew one-out walks but the rally fizzled as Lance Berkman was called out on strikes and Allen Craig flied out.  In Berkman's defense, he had an extended at bat, peppering the red-clad crowd at Busch Stadium with well struck foul balls.  But he never got a chance to straighten one out as he was rung up by umpire Kerwin Danley on a call that had Berkman visible upset.

Berkman got his revenge on Pirates starter James McDonald in the fourth, leading off with a double.  Allen Craig followed that with a single to score Berkman.  David Freese then walked to extend the rally, but the bugaboo of the Cardinals so far in 2011 - the double play - raised its ugly head again.  Skip Schumaker was the offender this time.  Gerald Laird couldn't get the clutch two-out hit, striking out to end the inning.

Setting the Table
A theme of the game for the St. Louis offense was the table-setting at the top of the order.  The fifth inning is a prime example.  Ryan Theriot stroked a one-out single and moved to third on Rasmus' single. Cardinal Nation held it's breath as Albert Pujols came to the plate, hoping that he wouldn't ground into another rally-killing double play.  Though he didn't drive the ball as we've been accustomed to (spoiled by) in the past, he did get the ball in the air and his sacrifice fly scored Theriot.  A Berkman pop fly to shortstop ended the inning with the score 2-2.

Theriot showed some leadoff man moxie in this game, getting on base three times with a single and two walks.  Rasmus also set the table with two singles and his fifth walk of the young season.  Rasmus' OBP is now .550, good for fifth in the NL.   These two Redbirds were also instrumental in the winning run for the home team.

In the seventh, Theriot walked and Rasmus singled in front of Albert Pujols.  Pujols stroked a ground ball single to score Theriot from second and give the Cardinals the 3-2 lead.

Miguel Batista pitched 1.2 scoreless innings of effective, but sleep inducing, relief.  Honestly, can't he pick up the pace a bit?  If St. Louis' defense is suspect, slowing the game down to drowsy isn't going to improve their alertness.  Trevor Miller allowed a walk in the eighth to put two runners on, but struck out Pedro Alverez to end the threat.  Closer Ryan Franklin did allow a two-out single in the ninth, but did get the save without overdone dramatics.

Cardinal Nation Relaxes
McClellan was the story in this one.  His won-loss record is still stuck on 0-0, but to say he didn't factor in the decision is a misnomer.  His six innings were key, and in his first career start mimicked Jaime Garcia last season in effectiveness - showing how close the battle in 2010 spring training for the fifth starter spot actually was.  And the table setting of Theriot and Rasmus relaxed the vexation of Cardinal Nation, if only for one night.

Now if the team can string two games of stringing together baserunners, we will feel much better before the upcoming west coast road trip.

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