While waiting for help to arrive—via trade, promotion from Memphis, however—the current Cardinals must create runs any way they can.
Their 5-2 victory over the Reds on Tuesday night was a classic example.
For five innings, scoring opportunities were hard to come by. The Cards dug in against crafty Reds starting pitcher, Bronson Arroyo, fouling off pitch after pitch while working for something to hit.
“Whatever he’s got, he’s going to give it to you,” Cards manager Tony La Russa said of Arroyo. “If he doesn’t have it, he’ll invent something.”
The Cards spoiled a lot of good off-speed pitches. They built a high pitch count (111 in five-and-one-third innings) against Arroyo with their persistence. Skip Schumaker battled through a 14-pitch at-bat before finally striking out.
Fans gave Schumaker a mild ovation as he walked back to the dugout, recognizing his effort. Now this is how teams fight out of offensive slumps.
Finally the Cards broke through in the sixth inning, with the help of some sloppy Reds defense and erratic Cincinnati relief pitching.
Fill-in starter Brad Thompson delivered five solid innings. The three-run sixth inning made a winner of middle reliever Jason Motte, who threw one-and-two-thirds powerful innings, and boosted the Cards back into a first-place tie with Milwaukee in the National League Central.
It was a difficult climb. The Cards scratched out their first run on Albert Pujols’ well-struck RBI grounder in the first inning.
In the fifth, Albert got Schumaker around from first by crushing a double into the left field corner. That tied the game 2-2.
(Reds left fielder Laynce Nix helped out by misplaying the ball, but Jose Oquendo was sending Skip all the way. Slumping Ryan Ludwick was due up next, so this was a good time to force the action.)
Finally, with rain starting to fall in the sixth inning, the Reds helped the Cards break loose. Sloppy defense and erratic relief-pitching helped the home team move ahead.
The tiring Arroyo hit Yadier Molina with a pitch. After Joe Thurston ripped a single to right field, continuing his hot streak, Molina challenged Reds outfielder Jay Bruce.
Sure enough, Bruce threw wide of third and allowed Molina to reach the corner. Thurston took second on the throw, which was critical. La Russa considered that aggressive baserunning play one of the highlights of the game.
RBI machine Nick Stavinoha, double-switched into the game for the slumping Ludwick, and lifted what should have been a sacrifice fly to deep center field.
But Willy Tavaras didn’t get a good jump on the ball—he couldn’t quite run it down.
Stavinoha’s two-run double gave him 12 RBIs in 45 Cards at-bats this season. Who needs Matt Holliday when this guy is raking in a part-time role?
La Russa is coming to like Stavinoha more every day. “His nature is, I will do whatever you need,” La Russa said. “Those are not throw-away at-bats. He is getting stuck right in the middle of it.”
La Russa cited the organizational book on Nick, which says he “gives tough at-bats, drives in big runs.” So far that has been the case. His clutch hitting has turned several would-be losses into victories during this tough stretch of the season.
Reds reliever Carlos Fisher threw a wild pitch, allowing Stavinoha to move to third. One out later, he threw another wild pitch and allowed Stavinoha to score.
The Cards found a way to win the game. They competed hard and finally earned some breaks.
Can they do it again and again? Can they keep clawing out victories by working pitchers at the plate, putting lots of balls in play and running aggressively?
They will have to. This is where the team is now. Until this team gets Rick Ankiel, Ludwick, and Chris Duncan producing runs again, this is how they will have to play.