CARDS EXTRAS

Freese, Furcal break out

2012-04-05T00:30:00Z 2012-04-30T20:14:10Z Freese, Furcal break outBy RICK HUMMEL • rhummel@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8196 stltoday.com

MIAMI • The saying goes that they don't put your spring training averages on your bubblegum cards. If they did, David Freese and Rafael Furcal would have enjoyed the gum more, and that's saying something for anybody who has had that particular chewing experience.

Third baseman Freese, the World Series most valuable player for the Cardinals in 2011, hit .188 in spring training and Furcal, the "happy flight" guy, batted .192.

As of today, both are hitting .600 after each had three of the Cardinals' 13 hits in a 4-1 opening-night victory Wednesday over the Miami Marlins at new Marlins Park.

Freese, slowed by ankle problems for the last several years, even beat out an infield hit. "I hit it soft enough," he said. "I think I wasted my only one on the season on opening night."

But what Freese does best is drive in runs with two outs. After he had won Game 6 of the World Series, Freese doubled in two runs with two out in the first inning of Game 7 to erase an early Texas lead.

On Wednesday, he singled home two runs with two out in the first to give Kyle Lohse a lead he wouldn't lose.

"That's what you try to do," Freese said. "If you want to stay in this game, you've got to execute."

The Cardinals touched up Marlins ace Josh Johnson for two runs in the first and one in the second and Freese said, "That's the key with aces like that. If you can jump on them early, then you've got a chance."

Given what happened last October, this hardly was his biggest game, albeit his best first game of the season. But what happened last year can have a carryover effect, Freese said.

"The playoffs can do wonders for you — learning how to keep your composure and not to get too anxious," said Freese. "If you embrace it and soak in all those postseason experiences, they definitely can help you.

"You can't run from anything. This game will eat you up if you run from it."

Hitting coach Mark McGwire, for whom the word "embrace" is a favorite tool of teaching, said, "I'll put David up against everybody in both leagues with men in scoring position with no outs or two outs. Two strikes. It doesn't matter. He's just got ice in his veins.

"One of the first things I was told about him when I came over here in 2010 was that this kid knows how to hit with men in scoring position. The big thing about him is that he sticks to his game plan. He doesn't fall into the trap of hitting what the pitchers are doing to try to get him out."

Freese also scored the final run in the eighth, dashing home from third on Daniel Descalso's tap to the right of the mound. "Descalso's glad my feet are on fire," joked Freese.

Besides his two singles and a double, Furcal, moved back into the leadoff spot after hitting eighth some this spring, was robbed of a hit on a stab by second baseman Omar Infante in the eighth inning.

Spring training to him was yesterday's news. "I know I didn't have a good spring training," Furcal said. "But now everything changes. We're playing the real game.

"But in the last week, I've feeling much better at the plate. Seeing the ball a little longer and then I'm making better contact."

Furcal is a nine-inning player and on Wednesday, Freese, unlike many times last year when manager Tony La Russa protected him, played the whole game, too.

"Tony's not the manager this year, so I don't know what he would have done," said Freese, smiling. "I'm glad he was watching (upstairs)."

Mostly, Freese was thinking about his current manager.

"It was nice to get Mike Matheny that first win. In the back of our minds, we wanted to give him that first one right away," Freese said.

"I didn't hear anybody talk about it, but everybody had it on their mind, for sure. He's a special person and he deserves this as soon as possible.

"Mike's got edge," said Freese. "He's a bulldog. He knows what it takes to win and we feed off it."

La Russa, watching from the pressbox, was proud of his former team.

"I thought they really played well," he said, "Ran the bases well. Lohse threw strike one. And they looked good at the plate. The guy (Johnson) tried to fastball them and they were all over him."

Asked if he was pulling for the Cardinals, La Russa said, "Hell, yeah. The Cardinals, White Sox and Angels. Those are my teams."

La Russa, of course, didn't manage the Angels. He managed Oakland under a different management.

"I pull for Albert (Pujols)," said La Russa.

For most of the game, La Russa said he watched, with distance, not involving himself in the play.

But when the game entered the later innings and it was time to consider pitching changes, as Matheny did on three occasions, La Russa said, "At that point, that's when my gut started stirring.

"It was exciting."

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