The St. Louis Cardinals (58-50) should have beaten the Houston Astros (52-53) easily this afternoon at Busch Stadium. However, in what has to be one of the most impressive debuts by a rookie starting pitcher in the modern baseball era, Bud Norris completely shut down the mighty offense of the Cardinals. Thanks to his efforts, Houston avoided a sweep by putting together a 2-0 shut out of the Redbirds.
Starting his first Major League game, Norris, who was a last minute substitution for Roy Oswalt, pitched seven innings, and allowed only two hits. He did walk four Redbird batters, but he struck out five, and effectively swept the legs out from under the Cardinals. It was a brilliant pitching performance by a 24-year-old, starting pitcher that has somehow flown completely under the radar.
The starter for the Cards, Adam Wainwright, also threw a good game, but got the loss, since Norris made run support close to impossible. Still, Wainwright threw seven innings, allowing two runs, eight hits, and striking out five.
Late in the game, Blake Hawksworth and Jason Motte got through an inning each with no hits and no damage, which is an increasingly rare feat for a St. Louis middle reliever this season.
Obviously, in a game like this one, none of the Cardinals' batters were too impressive, as the Redbirds got no meaningful offense at all. This was his first game in a St. Louis uniform where Matt Holliday didn't get on base. Albert Pujols continued his post-All Star cold streak, going 0-3.
As I write this, the Cardinals are tied with the Cubs for the lead of the National League Central. If Chicago beats the Marlins today, which seems likely, they'll be in first place by a half a game. By all rights, the Cardinals should have taken this opportunity to sweep the Astros.
The fact that they couldn't says one of two things: Either this Bud Norris guy is an overlooked, amazing baseball talent that no team is going to be able to score runs against, or the Cards still have some major flaws that need to be worked on.
I think the latter is by far the more likely of these two possibilities. If that's the case I hope these problems can be worked on during the next couple of weeks, when the Redbirds play a series of relatively weak, non-contending teams.