CINCINNATI • Five games into their defense of the World Series championship, the St. Louis Cardinals have hit upon an effective and overwhelming recipe for similar success.
Staked again to an early lead built upon homers, the Cardinals then road starter Jake Westbrook to a 7-1 victory against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Catcher Yadier Molina had three RBIs and one of the three homers the Cardinals hit in the first inning to give Westbrook a 4-0 lead before he even threw a pitch. Matt Holliday and David Freese had the other two homers, with Freese's being a two-run shot to right field. The Cardinals have taken a lead before their starter takes the mound in three of their five games.
They have yet to give up a lead once they take it.
On Monday against the Reds, Westbrook never allowed the tying run to come to the plate, though he did have some wobbly innings early before finding a groove and speeding toward seven innings on only 88 pitches.
The Cardinals have scored at least seven runs in three of their previous four games. Westbrook was the second starter this season to pitch through seven innings, and he did so without allowing an earned run. That plunged the Cardinals' rotation's overall ERA to less than 2.00 for the season.
The Cardinals continue this three-game series Tuesday night.
Westbrook leaves as Cardinals pull away to 7-1 lead
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina added a two-run double in the eighth inning and continued what's been a torrid month offensively for the backstop. Molina has a double in three of his four starts this season, and he's homered twice already.
Molina tagged Reds reliever Jose Arrendon with a two-run double to left-center field in the eighth inning to help the Cardinals extend their lead to 7-1 over Cincinnati.
Molina scored on pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter's sac fly.
Carpenter's appearance meant the end of Jake Westbrook's first start of the season. Westbrook became the second Cardinals starter to complete seven innings as he held the Reds to one run (it was unearned) off seven hits and four walks. All four of the walks came in the first two innings. After that Westbrook settled in, got some help from his defense, and zoomed ahead to 21 outs on a frugal 88 pitches.
Westbrook's no-hit bid and shutout tumbles in 5th
With two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, Reds leadoff hitter Brandon Phillips lined a base hit to center field that snapped Jake Westbrook's no-hit bid after 4 2/3 innings.
Westbrook cost himself a shutout through five innings on his own.
Zack Cozart, Cincy's rookie shortstop, punched a groundball off Jake Westbrook that barely got halfway to the mound by the time Westbrook fielded it. He threw off-balanced and wildly toward first. The throw skipped past the bag and into right field, allowing Phillips to speed all the way from first to home with the Reds' first run of the game.
The run proved to be unearned.
Westbrook recovered from his most detrimental throw of the evening to strike out No. 3 hitter Joey Votto with Cozart at second base. Westbrook zipped a 91-mph fastball past Votto for a called strike 3 and the third out of the second consecutive eventful inning for the Cardinals.
Wilson Valdez has replaced Phillips in the field at second base.
Phillips was removed from the game with a cramp in his left hamstring, according to a Reds official. The move was described as "precautionary."
Furcal's gem highlights wacky fourth inning
One batter after committing a fielding error, Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal had one of the finer defensive plays he'll have at the position all season.
That was just the start of a weird fourth inning.
And the end result was Westbrook continuing to keep the Reds without a hit through four innings.
Jay Bruce reached on a fielding error by Furcal, and the next hitter -- Chris Heisey -- appeared to have placed a groundball right between third and shortstop for the first base hit of the game against Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook. Not quite. Furcal dove to his right and gloved the ball at full extension. Then from his back he was able to get enough zip on a throw to second base to catch Bruce coming in for the forceout. Daniel Descalso stretched to make the timing of the play work.
Furcal had to go parallel to the ground and then click spin on his, ahem, rump to get the angle on a throw to second base.
The Cardinals then caught Heisey trying to steal, but even that out did not come without drama. As Heisey tried to make his break for second, Berkman dove after him and apparently clipped the runner's left field. Heisey at least thought he did. Heisey stopped running. The umpire, however, said he was not tagged and the play continued with Berkman doing his best Furcal and throwing from the ground to second for the tag out.
The Cardinals lead 4-0 through four innings.
Westbrook weathers early turbulence to hold 4-0 lead
In each of his first two innings tonight at Great American Ball Park, Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook walked two batters and had to escape a situation with two runners on and less than two outs.
Westbrook did so.
By the third he seemed to have found his groove.
Through two innings of work, Westbrook had gotten one groundball, had two chats with catcher Yadier Molina, and walked four batters. This was not the idea ratio of grounders to meetings to walks that the righty was looking for in his first start of the regular season. Westbrook had to work with a tight strike zone, but he also pitched into the problem by hanging out just outside the edges of the zone. But after the walks, Westbrook found outs.
Zack Cozart and Joey Votto walked in the first inning.
They were stranded at first and second.
Chris Heisey and Drew Stubbs had back-to-back walks to open the second inning. Neither advanced as the next three batters yielded to Westbrook. He ended the inning with a curveball strikeout of leadoff hitter Brandon Phillips.
Through two innings, Westbrook had thrown 35 pitches.
Nineteen of them were balls.
But he was able to get his footing for the third inning and retire the Reds in order -- all on fly balls. So keep that in mind as he comes out to pitch the fourth inning with the homer-fueled 4-0 lead in place.
Homers by Freese, Holliday and Molina muscle Cards to 4-0 lead
For the third time in five games this season the Cardinals have taken a lead before their starter has even thrown a pitch.
For the second time this season they've hit three homers in a season.
The Cardinals went almost two years between three-homer innings and all of 2011 without one. Now they have two three-homer innings in the span of four days. Matt Holliday, David Freese and then Yadier Molina all homered for the Cardinals in the first inning off Homer Bailey to build a quick 4-0 lead at Great American Ball Park.
The Cardinals spread the wealth around the ballpark.
Holliday started with a homer that traveled 389 feet to the left-center field stands. Freese followed with a two-run shot that went an estimated 365 feet and over the wall in right field. Molina, the next batter, drilled a homer (his second) to dead-center field off Bailey. Molina's traveled an estimated 413 feet, according to the Reds' media relations staff.
(Aside: That would have come 5 feet shy of touching the wall at Marlins Park. Just saying.)
The Cardinals sent eight batters to the plate in the second inning, and they did all of that damage with two outs. Jon Jay added a single, and in between the homers Lance Berkman walked.
It was Berkman's walk that may have keyed the whole inning. Berkman took a borderline pitch with a full count and got the benefit of his eye, calmly taking first. Two homers followed instead of the inning being over.
Freese now has eight RBIs in the first 37 innings of this season.
In Milwaukee on Friday, Holliday, Freese and Carlos Beltran all hit home runs in the same inning.
Schu, Craig won't be activated when eligible
The Cardinals placed infielder/outfielder Skip Schumaker and outfielder Allen Craig on the 15-day disabled list at the end of spring training and backdated it as far back into the month of March as possible.
Per baseball rules, the earliest either could come off the DL is Tuesday.
It won't be happening.
As discussed in the paper this past weekend, Craig has taken his rehab to St. Louis, where he is concentrating on day-to-day baseball activities and (obviously) not appearing in any games. Schumaker has remained back in Jupiter, Fla., along with Mark Hamilton. Schumaker could appeared in an extended spring training game as soon as Thursday, general manager John Mozeliak said. He will then return to St. Louis to participate in the team's World Series celebration, including the ring presentation on Saturday.
If Schumaker continues to progress as expected he could then start a rehab assignment at one of the minor-league affiliates -- possibly Memphis -- as soon as early next week.
Craig will return to Florida where he'll appear in extended spring games before getting fitted for a rehab assignment.
Mozeliak repeated that both will have a rehab assignment before joining the major-league club. Craig is coming back from November knee surgery that was necessary to repair a fracture in right kneecap. Schumaker strained an oblique during spring training.
Scott Linebrink (capsulitis, lat strain) returned to St. Louis today to begin his rehab.
Berkman wanted to test hand before starting
It was news to first baseman Lance Berkman that he wasn't in the original lineup posted this afternoon by the Cardinals. He looked up from his crossword puzzle when asked about a sore hand that might keep him in the dugout, and he shook his head.
"My hand is fine," he said. He added, as a joke: "I may need a hand with this crossword puzzle."
Berkman felt a pinch in his right hand during an awkward swing Saturday, manager Mike Matheny said. He was already scheduled for a Sunday off because of the opposing pitcher. The Cardinals wanted Berkman to take some swings early Monday before putting him in the lineup. Matheny filled out one lineup card before Berkman's test that did not have him in the lineup, and that was the lineup that the Reds passed along to the press box.
By contrast, the lineup posted in the Cardinals clubhouse had Berkman.
"We were in between," Matheny explained. "He gave it a good trial. It made itself out (with Berkman available)."
Berkman is back in the lineup
CINCINNATI • No opposing player who has played only as a visitor at Great American Ball Park has as many homers here than Lance Berkman, who has blistered the Reds with a .312 average overall and 23 home runs at GABP alone.
While it originally appeared he might not be adding to that total today, he now will get a chance after all.
Berkman was not in the Cardinals' lineup originally posted this afternoon; a club official said the veteran switch-hitter was having a sore hand evaluated by the team.
But when questioned about the situation, the first baseman said he will be in tonight's lineup. "It's fine," Berkman said of his hand. "I'm in (the lineup)" — a development that was confirmed by manager Mike Matheny.
Berkman also missed Sunday's game in Milwaukee, though the reason given was his difficult time against Randy Wolf in his career. Berkman has only three hits in 32 career at-bats against Wolf.
Here is the Cardinals' lineup as they visit Cincy for the first time this season:
1. Rafael Furcal, SS
2. Carlos Beltran, RF
3. Matt Holliday, LF
4. Lance Berkman, 1B
5. David Freese, 3B
6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Jon Jay, CF
8. Daniel Descalso, 2B
9. Jake Westbrook, P
The Reds will have their standard lineup ready to back Homer Bailey for his first start of the regular season. That means Scott Rolen, fresh from his walk-off base hit to win Sunday's game as a pinch-hitter, is back at third and batting cleanup for Cincinnati.
1. Brandon Phillips, 2B
2. Zack Cozart, SS
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Scott Rolen, 3B
5. Jay Bruce, RF
6. Chris Heisey, LF
7. Drew Stubbs, CF
8. Ryan Hanigan, C
9. Homer Bailey, P
Check back throughout the evening here at StlToday.com and C-Beat for the latest on Berkman and constant updates from the game.