When a major league ball club strings together 18 hits during a single game, it should be the highlight of the night. However, for the St. Louis Cardinals, the night was about an incredible defensive play coupled with timely pitching from the bullpen.
The series of events lead to a 6-4 victory for the Redbirds over the Marlins as they now took control of the series two games to one.
The offense for St. Louis came from a variety of sources in the lineup. Troy Glaus went 4-for-4 with an RBI, Skip Schumaker batted 3-for-5 with an RBI, and Adam Kennedy's 2-for-2 with two RBI night was crucial.
Albert Pujols contributed yet another multi-hit game going 2-for-5 and even the starting pitcher Braden Looper joined the act going 2-for-3.
Jason LaRue provided the difference as his two-run double in the seventh inning would be his only hit of the night. However, it could not have come at a better time.
A true team effort.
Looper performance was overshadowed by the offense, but it cannot be overlooked. Pitching seven strong innings and only allowing two runs with only one earned, he pitched deep into the ball game.
Providing five strikeouts with only a single walk issued only gave notice that Looper seems to be passing Kyle Lohse in the rotation. Lohse's apparent "fall from grace" has come at a hefty price but Looper stopped the bleeding with a solid outing.
As Looper exited the game, Kyle McClellan took the mound in the eighth. It did not take long before Florida responded with an offensive rally as they scored two runs in the inning.
In true Cardinals bullpen fashion, McClellan was close to blowing yet another game for the Redbirds. It's in their nature apparently, because St. Louis' bullpen has the most blown saves in the majors.
However, if not for a web gem from Joe Mather on a liner from Luis Gonzalez, the damage could have been even worse.
Even manager Tony LaRussa knew how big of a defensive play it had been.
"That was huge," La Russa said. "If Luis bangs that ball off the wall, that inning is going to get away from us."
As McClellan left after only recording a single out, Chris Perez took the bump. I could practically hear Cardinals nation hold their collective breath on LaRussa's pitching change.
However, this night would prove to be a defining moment for the young flame-throwing rookie. After a walk to slugger Dan Uggla to load the bases, Perez induced a ground ball inning-ending double play from Josh Willingham.
Perez exuded a bit of confidence after a shaky start in the inning.
"Early in the count, I was trying to get a ground ball," Perez said. "When I got ahead of him [Willingham], 1-2, I was trying to get a strikeout or a ground ball. I threw an OK pitch, and he hit a grounder to third."
As he entered the ninth, Perez's confidence grew as the struck out the first batter but then allowed a wild pitch.
LaRussa knew his young reliever could handle the pressure.
"He had the strikeout thing happen and didn't faint after that, either," La Russa said. "You're looking to see how he acts. He kept concentrating. He didn't get distracted. That's a good sign."
Perez would then record his third straight save opportunity and is starting to show flashes of dominance in those situations. With Perez starting to show more of a closer's mentality, where now does Adam Wainwright's role stand? Starter or reliever?
No doubt LaRussa's decision with Wainwright will be scrutinized heavily by Cardinals nation.
With the hard fought victory now behind them, the Cardinals now look to dominate the series tonight with Todd Wellemeyer.
Looking back, Tony LaRussa knew his team had been put through the gauntlet.
"That was a grinder," LaRussa said afterward.