It's not unusual for the Cardinals to score early and then take a few innings off. But it was a little bit odd to see them collect six hits in a row and put five runs on the board without registering an out.
Then, as fast as the offensive tsunami showed up, it receeded. Belleville native Randy Wells, who absorbed all the early damage, hit the showers and a parade of Chicago relievers shut the Redbirds down until Ryan Ludwick hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning.
The Birds, for at least an inning, seemed to forget about trying to kill the ball and built their rally in the first on constructive base hits. Albert Pujols found himself behind in the count with two strikes and two runners on after swinging through a couple of balls in his first at bat. But then he cut down his swing and bounced a grounder up the middle, driving in a pair to be productive if not dramatic.
Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols hits a two-run single in the first inning Friday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. AP Photo.
The win was huge for the Cardinals -- and for starter Chris Carpenter who improved to 7-2 lifetime at Wrigley Field and 6-1 with a 2.93 ERA for the season. They face an uphill road on Saturday with rookie Adam Ottavino, whose minor league results have been inconsistent, subbing for Kyle Loshe in a very hostile environment. They had to win with their ace on the hill and try to break even when the subs are filling in for Lohse and fellow injured starter Brad Penny.
Four of the first five St. Louis batters collected two hits to pace the offense. Only Albert Pujols, amongst that group, was held to a lone safety.
In a high-pressure situation like the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry, it's always good to take the first game and relieve some of the tension. And a 15-run outburst in two games sure beats the one run the Redbirds scored in the previous two. I'd be thrilled to split the remaining games in Chicago..
Cardinals Star of the Game: Ludwick was 2-for-5 with a homer, two runs scored and two RBIs.
Cardinals Play of the Game: With the Cardinals up 5-1 and the two on and no one out, manager Tony La Russa turned to reliever Jason Motte who whiffed Derek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano to end the threat. That's sort of three plays. But they all added up to one momentum crushing moment in the game.
Lowlight: A day after he broke out with a 4-for-4 performance in San Diego, Cardinals shortstop Brendan Ryan wore the collar with no hits in four at bats Friday.