While it is just barely still legitimate to say the Cardinals are in the playoff race, the first game of tonight's Card-Cub series had all the feel of fall baseball, and the beauty, intensity and drama of a playoff race. Albert Pujols showed once again why he is the league's MVP for 2008 by striking the big blow in the bottom of the 6th -- a first pitch drive to right-center off of Ryan Dempster that brought the Cardinals back and tied the game at three. While El Hombre had the big bomb, there were a number of unsung heroes that provided key moments in this game......a beautiful come from behind victory over the first-place Cubs:
- Kyle Lohse: Got the Cardinals off on the wrong foot with some bad pitch locations in the first, putting us in a 2-0 hole. However, he hung in there, got into the 6th, and generally kept the Cards in the game while the offense was struggling to score.
- Jason Motte: In maybe the biggest moment of the game, relieved Lohse with the bases loaded and one out, and the Cubs up 3-0 in the 6th. Motte came in throwing the fastball that has Card fans excited about his 2009 presence in the bullpen, and struck out Ryan Dempster. He then battled Alfonso Soriano to a 2-2 count before getting him to fly to right to end the inning. This was probably the turning point in the game, as the Cubs squandered the opportunity to add to their lead......and the game was instead tied three batters into the bottom of the 6th.
- Aaron Miles: His beautiful bunt single with one on in the 6th set the stage for Albert's dramatic, game-tying shot.
- Ryan Franklin: followed Abert's HR up with solid relief in the 7th and 8th, keeping the game tied....something our bullpen has struggled with all year in similar situations.
- Chris Perez: followed the predictable leadoff walk from Ron Villone in the 9th by getting Soriano to bounce into a DP, ending a possible Cub threat.
- Brian Barden: In maybe the third biggest moment of the game, came to the plate with two on and no outs in the 9th, attempting to sacrifice. After the first pitch from Marmol came straight at his chest.....fortunately he was able to get the bat on it to keep from getting drilled.......he was able to still get the next pitch down, and move Brendan Ryan to 3rd with one out. Tough situation for the rookie, and he came through.
- Cesar Izturis: even though he swing was an accident, he was able to get the bat on the ball and make something happen. And it was JUST enough to get the winning run home.
- Brendan Ryan: Pinch-running in the 9th for Molina, he was able to distract Carlos Marmol into a balk, then made a great read and an even better slide to score the winning run on Izturis' excuse me swing.
These are all the little things that great teams do, and the kind of thing that has sometimes eluded the Cardinals this year. Hopefully this is a start of more of the same in the next two games against the Cubs. Cards-Cubs games seem to always be tight and end with some drama, and tonight did not disappoint. This was a great win tonight and a great team effort. Let's hope for two more......we need it.