Cardinals-Pirates: Redbirds Avoid Sweep with the Help of a Young Gun

Derek CoffeltSenior Analyst IMay 15, 2009

With All-star slugger Ryan Ludwick and veteran Rick Ankiel both on the disabled list, the St. Louis Cardinals looked extremely thin at their outfield positions.

Colby Rasmus stepped up to the plate to fill-in for those big shoes as he helped St. Louis defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-1 on Thursday.

The win helped the Redbirds avoid a sweep from the Pirates in what would have been a series to forget if not for Rasmus' moonshot.

With one out and a runner on first in a scoreless game in the second inning, Rasmus jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Pittsburgh starter Jeff Karstens and launched it high and far. The ball bounced off the upper River Walk outside PNC Park and caromed into the Allegheny River. It was estimated to have traveled 458 feet.

The young rookie had a game plan when stepping inside the batter's box.

"That's the goal, every time—get a good pitch to hit, put a good swing on it, hit it hard somewhere," Rasmus said. "It feels good. It's been a while. I used to hit [home runs] a little more regularly than that, but now they don't come as much. It felt pretty good."

Talk about making a name for yourself. It was a shot team leader Albert Pujols would take awe in.

Manager Tony La Russa took stock of the recent road trip.

"It was a tough trip, but getting the last one in both places, that makes the trip look a lot different," La Russa said. "Not a good one, but it makes it look different."

Rasmus' home run was much a needed power surge with the reigning NL MVP hitting a rough patch in his offensive numbers recently since the Cardinals hosted the Pirates back on May 7.

Since that day, Pujols' batting average has dropped 33 points while managing to bat just 4-for-25. It's obvious affects from Ankiel's absence in the lineup after his gruesome head-first crash into the outfield wall on May 5.

Despite the drop in batting average, the sliver slugger still has managed to drive in six runs combined with two home runs and three walks. Two of those RBIs came on a two-run single Pujols hit in the eighth inning in Thursday's contest.

Pujols is still being patient at the plate but is hitting several first inning round-trippers with no one on base.

Does T-Rex Pennybaker ring any bells?

That patience and collective "coolness" is something his skipper appreciates and takes note of.

"That's why he's a great hitter," La Russa said. "He puts the ball in play. A lot of times, he puts the ball in play in the middle of the field where he's got an opening. He hit some balls hard and got nothing, but he doesn't get frustrated. He gets frustrated, but he collects himself and comes back ready to go."

Mitchell Boggs was serviceable in the absence of ace Chris Carpenter but hasn't been able to pitch past six innings of work at all this season. Needing 82 pitches to complete only four-and-a-third innings, Boggs once again relied on the bullpen to carry the load.

In games past I would have thought that was a death sentence, but recently the St. Louis bullpen has been nearly flawless.

Five pitchers combined to collect the last 14 outs, and in that time, only one Pirate even got into scoring position. After a rocky April, Cardinals relievers have a composite 2.53 ERA in May. No reliever has been charged with a loss since Apr. 28, in Atlanta.

It remains to be seen if this corps of relievers can help deliver any postseason success but maybe the Cardinals brass knew what they were talking about when it came to a quiet offseason.

Sticking to their guns about not signing any long term deal with a reliever, the Cardinals headed into the 2009 season with an, at best, a questionable closer. At worst, yet another league-leading blown save performance from their mediocre relievers.

Proving to be reliable is the best thing St. Louis could hope for as Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer, and Joel Pineiro all are struggling.

Hope is on the horizon as Chris Carpenter is eyeing a return some time next week and has healed ahead of schedule from his oblique strain.

For St. Louis to keep a top the NL Central, they'll need him to be just as dominate as he was in 2005.

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