On a sunny afternoon at Miller Park, the score today was 1-0 heading in to the eighth inning. Fans of the Cardinals had every reason to fear for the worst.
Up until that point, the game was a tight pitchers' duel between the talented, but shakey, Joel Pineiro, and the Brewers' left-handed pitcher, Manny Parra.
St. Louis's lefty-heavy lineup had been shut down by Parra all day. Even the mighty Albert Pujols seemed to have trouble figuring out the young Brewer.
In the eighth, Parra, with a high pitch count, was pulled out of the game. Skip Schumaker, pinch-hitting for Barden, stepped up to the plate and immediately smacked a single to right field. Then, he scored on a massive triple by the suddenly hot bat of Brendan Ryan.
Milwaukee's management responded by bringing in a lefty to pitch to Colby Rasmus. LaRussa countered, bringing in Jason LaRue to pinch hit. He was walked. This meant there was a man on first and third, as Albert Pujols stepped up to the plate.
Milwaukee changed pitchers again. That's three pitchers at this point, with no outs, and one of the greatest power hitters in the history of baseball up with men on base.
I must admit, I expected the Brewers to intentionally walk Pujols in this situation, preventing him from getting any RBI in this series. Bravely they decided to pitch to him, which prompted Pujols to smack a double into left field. This easily scored Brendan Ryan and sent LaRue awkwardly sliding into third.
So, Ryan Ludwick bats with two men on base, and immediately smacks the ball over the center field wall, clearing the bases, and his three-run home run puts the Cardinals ahead 5-1.
There was no further scoring in the inning or, indeed, in the game.
There could have been if the always incompetent Rick Ankiel hadn't attempted to steal a base. But, after an exciting inning like that, and after a great, three-hitter pitching performance like the one that Pineiro had during this game, there really is little room for complaint about this Cardinals performance.
It is true that they stranded too many runners, like they've done all season. However, St. Louis pitched well and scored enough to win. Ludwick and Ryan definitely showed that they're improving at the plate.
As long as DeRosa's injury keeps him out of the lineup, Ryan should be batting second, Ludwick should remain in the clean-up spot, and, to give Pujols a little extra insurance against being walked all the time, Colby Rasmus should always be batting fifth.
Ankiel, Duncan, and Thurston should be kept out of the lineup as much as possible.
Such moves should guarantee that the Redbirds two game lead in the National League Central goes unabated and undiminished.
Next, St. Louis heads to Wrigley Field for a four-game series against the Cubs. Then they get a little bit of well deserved rest during the All-Star Break.