Game 44 - Cardinals 3, Pirates 1

The St. Louis Cardinals took their third victory in a row over the Pittsburgh Pirates Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium behind their most dependable starter, Braden Looper. Jason Isringhausen collected his second save in about 17 hours.

The St. Louis Cardinals (19-25) brought the brooms out and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates (19-27) on Thursday afternoon in a 3-1 victory that gave the Cardinals sole possession of fourth place in the National League Central. Braden Looper (6-3) picked up the victory and Jason Isringhausen earned his 12th save of the season. Tom Gorzelanny (5-3) of the Pirates got the loss.

Looper and the Cardinals got out of the first inning without allowing the Pirates to plate a run, and in the bottom of the second inning the surging Yadier Molina put the Cards on top with an RBI double. So Taguchi singled with one out and put the first run on the board when Molina had the extra-base hit. Aaron Miles slapped a pitch to the second baseman for a base hit which allowed Molina to score during the bang-bang play at first base.

Braden Looper allowed only three hits in six innings, but one of the three came as a solo home run off the bat of Jose Bautista in the sixth inning. The leadoff homer decreased the Cardinals' lead to just one run, and the bullpen would go to work to try and make it a St. Louis victory.

Russ Springer entered the game in the seventh and gave up one hit while facing four batters. He hit one batter as well, and left the game for reliever Tyler Johnson, who also hit a Pirates' batter before forcing Bautista into a groundout to end the inning. Johnson started off the eighth frame as well and plunked another batter before being replaced by Todd Wellemeyer. Wellemeyer brought the heat to the mound, routinely throwing around 96 mph in his appearance. He received only one kink in his relief of Johnson when Adam LaRoche singled to right field. He struck out Jason Bay and Xavier Nady grounded into a fielder's choice.

The home half of the eighth inning started off when Scott Rolen received a walk. Rolen got the sign and proceeded to steal second base while So Taguchi showed bunt at the plate. Taguchi ended his at-bat with a sacrifice bunt that brought Rolen to third. Yadier Molina flew out to right field and Rolen scored on the sacrifice fly, which gave Molina his second RBI of the day.

Jason Isringhausen came in for the save in the ninth inning and caught Ronny Paulino looking for the first out. Jack Wilson grounded out, and Nate McLouth popped out to Rolen in foul territory to end the game.

Game Notes:

- Yadier Molina is now batting .304 and has a 15-game hitting streak. He has absolutely carried over his great playoff performance offensively from 2006. He went 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored on Thursday.

- Russ Springer has a 13.2 scoreless innings pitched streak going, as well. He pitched .2 innings on Thursday.

- To make the Cardinals' sudden surge even better, the team faces the Washington Nationals (18-29) at Busch this weekend. Despite winning two straight games, the Nationals are 7-16 on the road thus far in 2007. The three-game winning streak is also coming at exactly the right time, as the rest of the National League Central is on a collective 15-game losing streak. The division-leading Brewers have lost two in a row, the second place Astros and the now fifth place Pirates have lost four in a row, the third place Cubs have lost three in a row, and the last place Reds have lost two in a row. The Cardinals have won three straight and are the only team in the NL Central NOT on a losing streak right now.

- Aaron Miles should be starting at second base more often. He was 3-for-3 Thursday and unlike Adam Kennedy on Wednesday, did not commit a run-scoring error.

- Chris Duncan did not start on Thursday, and the lack of power was obvious in the lineup. He should get the call every day unless he is hurt, and his two straight games with a home run should have mandated a start against the Pirates in game three of the series. Then again, a 3-1 win is still a win.

- I like what Todd Wellemeyer brings to the table as a reliever. Obviously, Ryan Franklin is the better choice, but he is out right now with strep throat. Wellemeyer has a strong arm and despite having a 10.34 ERA with Kansas City earlier this season, he has posted a modest 3.60 ERA with St. Louis in three appearances. He has struck out seven, as well.



Brady Holzhauer can be reached via email at sportswriter5@gmail.com.

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