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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Cardinals crush classy closers

Over just the last three weeks, the St. Louis Cardinals have come from behind four times in the final innings to either tie a game or win it against four top National League closers. The victims have been the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton, the Mets’ Francisco Rodriguez, the Pirates’ Matt Capps and most recently, the Padres’ Heath Bell.

Let’s look into each contest. Notice how several of the closers’ seasons seemed to have taken a downturn after they failed against St. Louis.

Sunday, August 16 at Busch: Cardinals 7, Padres 5 – Bell rung

Both teams waited through two rain delays totaling two hours and 19 minutes before the Cardinals scored three in the ninth to come from behind to win. Key blows against Bell were singles by Ryan Ludwick and Yadier Molina and a two-run walk off home run by Colby Rasmus.

Bell was the losing pitcher and took a blown save too. It was his first outing in St. Louis since having also taken the defeat in the 2009 All-Star Game at Busch last month. In his favor, Bell came back to earn a win against the Cubs on Monday – a doubly good outcome.

The August 16 victory gave the Cardinals a three-game sweep of the visitors and capped a 5-1 homestand. It helped the team reach two milestones as it was the first time St. Louis had been 15 games over .500 this season (67-52) and their first five-game lead in the National League Central Division race.

Sunday, August 9 at Pittsburgh: Cardinals 7, Pirates 3 – Capps blasted

In the eighth, a two-run home run by pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker gave the Cardinals the lead against Capps. A controversial plunking of Albert Pujols followed, an act which caused Capps to be ejected. A two-run double by Ludwick and a run-scoring single by Khalil Greene then padded the Cardinals’ lead.

Capps took the daily double with both the blown save and the loss. He had converted 21 of 23 save opportunities prior to that. In the eight days since, pitching for the woeful Pirates, he hasn’t had another chance at a save, though he did yield three runs in just 2/3 of an inning last Thursday.

The come-from-behind victory sent the Cards 11 games over .500 for the first time all season and put them two games ahead of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, at the time their largest edge since July 21.

Tuesday, August 4 at New York: Cardinals 12, Mets 7 (10 innings) – K-Rod clobbered

The Cardinals rallied from two runs down in the final inning of regulation against Rodriguez. Julio Lugo and Schumaker delivered two-strike, run-scoring hits off K-Rod in the ninth inning, with Skip’s tying the game at 7-7. After K-Rod exited, Mark DeRosa plated the game winner on a hit-by-pitch and Pujols broke out of a slump with a grand slam in the tenth to put it away.

K-Rod took the blown save, only his fourth of the season in 28 opportunities at that time. Since that night, in five save chances, he has blown two (including one loss).

Wednesday, July 29 at Busch: Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2 (15 innings) – Broxton bashed

The Cardinals were down to their last strike, losing 1-0 in the ninth when Rasmus’ broken-bat, opposite-field RBI single off Broxton sent the game into extra innings. In a marathon that lasted 15 innings over 4 hours, 53 minutes and included 453 pitches, St. Louis eventually won the game against former Cardinals starter Jeff Weaver in the 15th.

The blown save ended Broxton’s run of 12 consecutive saves and was just his third blown save of the season in 26 chances. Since, he has blown two of his four save opportunities and of course could be facing the Cardinals again on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Dodger Stadium.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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