Pittsburgh Pirates starter Charlie Morton, who won two games last season and had a airplane-like 7.77 ERA against the Cardinals coming into Monday, flummoxed a foundering Cardinals' lineup in the Pirates 4-3 victory at Busch Stadium.
Against a chilly, scarce crowd announced at 32,007 -- though the true turnstile spins was less than 25,000 -- the Cardinals managed six hits off the Pirates. Two of those hits came in the eighth inning as the Cardinals mustered a mini-rally.
The announced crowd was the smallest ever at Busch III.
Kyle Lohse pitched six strong innings, but it was a wobbly inning shoved inbetween that cost him and the absent Cardinals offense the game. Lohse struck out five and held the Pirates to six hits through his seven innings. In the sixth inning, the Pirates tagged him for all four runs, including a two-run homer by Andrew McCutchen.
The Cardinals, listless offensively so far this season, had ample chances to crack the game open against Morton. They whiffed. Overall, the Cardinals' position players went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Their lone hit was a groundball single by Lance Berkman, who reached base three times. His RBI hit came in the eighth inning.
The Cardinals' two other rounds scored on a double play and an RBI groundout.
Closer Joel Hanranhan pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 for his third save.
CARDINALS EKE INTO GAME AGAINST MEEK
The Pittsburgh Pirates have held the lead in all four games they've played so far this season. The bullpen has decided whether they won or lost with it.
That was going to be the case again Monday as Charlie Morton turned over a 4-1 lead to the relievers and watched as the Cardinals starter to chew into in the eighth inning.
A leadoff single by Colby Rasmus off fireballer Evan Meek started the rally for the Cardinals. Albert Pujols, 0-for-3 with three groundouts to third base, followed with a walk to set up Lance Berkman with the Cardinals fifth at-bat with a runner in scoring position. Berkman delivered the Cardinals' first hit in such a situation.
The switch-hitting veteran bounced an RBI grounder through the right side of the infield to score Rasmus, chase Meek and pull the Cardinals to within two runs. Allen Craig added the Cardinals' second run of the inning with an RBI groundout. He stole second for his first major-league stolen base and to get into scoring position for David Freese or Yadier Molina.
With a chance to tie the game, Freese struck out to slip to 0-for-3 with runners in scoring. Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan then entered the game -- the third righthanded reliever used by Clint Hurdle in the same inning (!) -- to face Molina. The Cardinals catcher struck out on a check-swing after fouling off three consecutive pitches.
MORTON MYSTIFIES THROUGH SIX
Pittsburgh Charlie Morton, who had the highest ERA of anyone with at least 70 innings last season in the National League, had offered the Cardinals the opportunity to score some runs.
They waved each off.
Morton leaves Monday's game with a 4-1 lead after holding the Cardinals to one run on three hits. He walked five batters, and in four consecutive innings the Cardinals had at least one runner get into scoring position. Three times that runner got to second base with only one out. Morton struck out three, and of his 97 pitches 57 were strikes.
Morton entered the game with a 7.77 ERA in his appearances against the Cardinals, and the current Cardinals roster combined to hit .479 off of him before Monday's game. In Monday's game, they went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position against the righty.
The only run scored on a double play.
Morton yielded to reliever Jose Veras for the bottom of the seventh.
That was the same inning that the Cardinals pulled Lohse from the game as well. Lifted for a pinch hitter, Lohse went seven innings. He allowed four runs (all earned). The righty struck out five against one walk.
McCUTCHEN'S HOMER PUNCTUATES 4-RUN SIXTH
Working without a net, Kyle Lohse wobbled for the first time in the sixth inning and the Pittsburgh Pirates pounced.
Ronny Cedeno led off the sixth inning with a single to right field, and the parade of opportunistic hits. The Cardinals have yet to have a base hit with a runner in scoring position. The Pirates had two in two chances and raced to a 4-1 lead against Lohse.
Cedeno moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from pitcher Charlie Morton. Leadoff hitter Jose Tabata worked a walk from Lohse -- the first walk of the game from the Cardinals' starter. Neil Walker followed with a two-run double and Andrew McCutchen drilled his second homer of the season to account for the Pirates' crooked-number burst in the sixth inning.
Lohse had held the Pirates to two hits and only one runner as far as second base in the first five innings of the game.
The Pirates' four runs in one inning were more than the Cardinals have scored in their previous 19 innings combined.
OFFENSE FRIGID AS LOHSE HOLDS SLIM LEAD
That rebooted St. Louis Cardinals offense has yet to warm to the 2011 season. The Cardinals have been stuck on one run through five innings tonight, and they've scored nine runs total in 34 innings so far this season.
The Cardinals' first and only run so far of tonight's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates scored on a double play.
Overall, the Cardinals are zero-for-4 with runners in scoring position. Albert Pujols grounded out to third base for the third time in three at-bats, the last one coming with two runners on. Charlie Morton has pitched around trouble in each of the past three innings. He's walked four batters in that stretch, and the Cardinals have put a runner in scoring position the second, third, fourth and now fifth innings against Morton.
LOHSE PITCHES AROUND ERROR
Kyle Lohse had coaxed a double play to erase one base hit and pitched to the minimum through 3 1/3 inning. That's when Neil Walker laced a line-drive single to right field and an odd hop led to Lance Berkman's first error of the season.
The ball skipped off the grass and then off of Berkman's hand or chest. That error allowed Walker to race for second and into scoring position with one out.
Lohse was unfazed.
He got two grounders from the next to batters, including one that Ryan Theriot ranged to his left to cash in for the out.
Lohse had faced one over the minimum through four innings. He's struck out four, and he's collected six groundouts. In the first inning, on the first play of the game, third baseman David Freese smothered a groundball with a dive to his left. From his seat in the infield grass, he threw out the speedy Jose Tabata.
LOHSE SHARP EARLY; BERKMAN PROVIDES 1-0 LEAD
After showing all spring that he was pitching well, healthy and better than he had in years, Kyle Lohse is proving it through two innings of his first start.
Lohse struck out four of the first six batters he faced and he retired the side in order in both of the first two innings. Lohse has riddled the Pirates so far with his changeup, throwing it low, lower and lowest in an strikeout of catcher Ryan Doumit to end the second inning.
The righthander has thrown 17 strikes with his first 26 pitches, and he's gotten a couple strikeouts on pitches out of the zone set up by a sharp sinker.
The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning after Lance Berkman did what Lance Berkman usually does: Get on base against Pirates starter Charlis Morton. Berkman walked, advanced to third on a slick hit-and-run with Allen Craig, and then scored on David Freese double play groundout.
BERKMAN HITS WELL VS. MORTON
Cardinals right fielder Lance Berkman, who is batting cleanup tonight, brings a successful if not ample history into the game against starter Charlie Morton. In six at-bats against the Pittsburgh Pirates righthanded starter, Berkman has five hits -- three doubles and two homers. He also has a walk against Morton.
Berkman was not aware of the numbers until asked about it before the game today.
"I'm just trying to get a hit," Berkman said. "I had no idea that that was the case. I can't make anything of that -- only having had six at-bats, that's not (enough). I wouldn't consider myself an expert. He seems to be aggressive with his fastball. I know he's going to compete hard."
Berkman comes into this series with good numbers against the Pittsburgh pitching staff (.320/.469/.653 in 75 at-bats against the arms on the Bucs' roster), and overall success against the Pirates. In 151 career games against Pittsburgh, Berkman is a .295/.441/.537 hitter with 26 home runs and 101 RBIs.
WESTBROOK FOCUSES ON FASTBALL
Coming off a start that saw him struggle with his command and walk right into a rout Saturday against the San Diego Padres, Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook threw a bullpen Monday afternoon with an eye on harnessing one pitch, his most important pitch.
While lacing up his cleats, Westbrook said he would "predominantly" throw sinkers during his bullpen session. He usually starts off each between-start workout with sinker after sinker after sinker. This time he expected to throw more than usual as he tries to get a feel for his signature pitch. He has not had the most effecient outings during spring training, and that trend continued Saturday as he didn't see the Cardinals through five innings.
Sometimes sinkerballers lose command of the pitch when they throw too strong or feel too adrenalized for a start. Westbrook agreed that that can happen early in individual starts -- and it has to him -- but that wasn't the root of his troubles.
"I don't think that's the case this time," Westbrook said Monday. "It gets to the point where it just clicks again and I don't have to think about it. I can concentrate on getting guys out."
The Pirates have a lineup that features a second baseman who had more than 50 RBIs after the All-Star break last season and a center fielder who some consider already the finest in the National League.
In short, the consensus from a few Cardinals this afternoon, was opponents can trip if they think this group is a walk-over.
The Pirates' lineup for the first game of this series at Busch:
1. Jose Tabata, LF
2. Neil Walker, 2B
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
4. Lyle Overbay, 1B
5. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
6. Ryan Doumit, C
7. Garrett Jones, RF
8. Ronny Cedeno, SS
9. Charlie Morton, P
LOHSE RETURNS TO FORM, BATS NINTH
After one of the most successful springs of any pitcher or player on the roster, St. Louis Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse opens tonight his 2011 season -- his first game since May 2009 that he can claim to be pitching completely healthy.
Oh, and he's batting ninth, too.
Lohse, who did not walk a batter during spring training, has been operating with a better and more precise selection of pitches after two seasons complicated by a forearm injury. Because he had a deep injury inside his right forearm, Lohse fatigued quickly in games and he could not get a feel for his pitches, including his slider. The grip on his slider came back this spring, and Lohse has been able to use it and the changeup with greater confidence.
Manager Tony La Russa is sliding the pitcher back to the ninth spot in the order because he did not see a "good candidate" to bat ninth from today's selection of position players.
Lohse's first challenger is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are coming off two victories in three games at Wrigley Field. The Pirates had a save opportunity in all three games, and they needed a rally late in Sunday's game to take the series from the Chicago Cubs.
Check back on this blog throughout the night and during the game as we update Jake Westbrook's bullpen, Lance Berkman's loves-to-face, and other stuff ...
But first, the Cardinals lineup:
1. Ryan Theriot, SS
2. Colby Rasmus, CF
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Lance Berkman, RF
5. Allen Craig, LF
6. David Freese, 3B
7. Yadier Molina, C
8. Skip Schumaker, 2B
9. Kyle Lohse, P