I've been enjoying my fine dessert of Reds' offense lately. So, apparently, has Jim Edmonds. Except his dessert is accompanied by a chorus of sorrows singing its mournful cry.
Link courtesy of deadspin.com.
Late life from an offense shackled by Cincinnati starters for an unusual string of innings was not enough to halt a home stand that grew ugly, uglier and ugliest until finally, as one Red put it, the unthinkable.
Cincinnati third baseman Rich Aurilia tied career bests with four hits and five RBIs as the Reds won 7-4 on Wednesday. The win, Cincinnati's seventh consecutive, completed the Reds' first sweep in St. Louis since 1998.
"Almost unthinkable," Aurilia said in a postgame radio interview.
With the victory, Cincinnati tied the Cardinals at the top of the NL Central standings, returning to the first spot it held through much of April. The Cardinals have been in possession of it since May 12. Those were far greener days.
The first series sweep by an opponent at the new ballpark capped a home stand that quickly spiraled on the Cardinals.
They lost consecutive series to division foes. They lost their leading hitter to an injury that could keep him out through the All-Star break. They lost the sizzling streak of 11 consecutive saves by their closer. They lost five of the final six games - a skid not experienced since September 2004, after that season's division title had been clinched.
They seem to have lost traction, lost their fizz, too.
"Two things. We didn't play very well and we ran into a hot team," said Cards first baseman Jim Edmonds, who punctuated the fruitless spell on offense with his first home run since May 12. "It's a different view at first base and it looks like that team is playing Wiffle Ball right now. Everything they hit was hard. They could do no wrong."
With Albert Pujols out with a strained muscle in his right side and Edmonds playing but hampered by an abdominal injury, the Cardinals' brass professed last weekend the club's need to rely on pitching. News flash. As generous as the Cardinals' offense has been as the club stockpiled at least 100 wins each of the past two seasons, pitching has been the bedrock.
Specifically, solid starting pitching.
It's still the trendsetter. The trend is just different.
Starter Sidney Ponson entered Wednesday's game with a 4-0 record. Ponson, not the most dominant of the Cardinals' starters but perhaps the most dogged, had worked into the seventh inning just once this season yet had allowed three earned runs or less in every start. Pitching ahead in the count had allowed him to wiggle free of danger in past starts.
But on Wednesday he fell behind to 13 of the 28 batters he faced and 10 of those 13 reached base.
"I'm not going to make any excuses," he said. "I didn't pitch good. I got behind in the count. When you get ahead in the count, you can do some mistakes and get away with it. But not when you're behind in the count. I just got hit hard."
In the third inning RBI singles by Aurilia and Scott Hatteberg hooked two runs on Ponson, and by the time the righthander left the game one out into the sixth inning he'd allowed a season-high five earned runs. One more than he allowed total in three starts in May.
Three batters after his departure, the Reds led 7-0.
Back-to-back doubles by Hatteberg and Aurilia in the fifth inning gave the Reds a 4-0 lead. Ryan Freel, starting in center field as Ken Griffey Jr. rested a sore left thigh muscle, hit his second double of the game, in the sixth, to chase Ponson from the game. The fifth earned run off Ponson scored when Aurilia blasted a three-run homer off reliever Tyler Johnson.
Ponson's exit marked the fourth time in this past turn through the Cardinals' full, healthy five-man rotation that the starter did not get an out in the seventh inning. Three times, the Cardinals' starter has pitched 5 1/3 innings or less.
The Cardinals took the fourth-worst June ERA into Monday's game and while the bullpen has sprung its leaks recently, it's been the starters weakening the seal. Over their past five appearances, the Cardinals' starters have allowed 21 earned runs over 28 innings pitched for a 6.75 ERA. Opponents have 42 hits off of them in that span.
"It's not good, but it can turn around just as quick," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "We just need to get out there and pitch a few games well back-to-back and guys get aggressive again. We're not pitching aggressively. Trying to be too fine. ... Sometimes when you give up some runs sometimes the next guy thinks he has to be perfect and it starts snowballing like that."
As if the sweep wasn't rare enough, the Cardinals needed the flurry of runs in the sixth to stem a run of scoreless innings. Scott Rolen's two-RBI double in the sixth off starter Aaron Harang snapped a 15-inning drought, the Cardinals' longest since June 2004.
That Rolen was the spark for the one-inning flash should have been expected. The Cardinals third baseman has swiftly climbed the ranks in several of the league's offensive categories. He came into Wednesday's game hitting .339, third-best in the National League and eighth best in the majors. His .413 on-base percentage ranked seventh.
Including his two for four night Wednesday, Rolen has hit .431 over his past 17 games. While the ballpark has held him in, he has been knocking at the wall. Thirteen of his 28 hits in that stretch have been for extra bases.
His two-out, two-run double in the sixth began to undo Harang (7-4). The Reds' righthander had won a 1-0 duel with Carpenter in his last visit to Busch Stadium. Through five innings, the Cardinals looked as listless as they did against Harang's teammate, lefty Eric Milton, on Tuesday night. A couple singles in the first inning fizzled and the Cardinals didn't get a runner to second between that and the two outs into the fifth.
The sixth-inning burst answered the Reds' three-run sixth.
But it only lessened Cincinnati's lead, not threaten it.