05/10/2002 11:51 pm ET
Renteria gives Cards a lift
By Mark Schmetzer / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- St. Louis manager Tony La Russa has been around Major League baseball too long to get too excited about anything. That's why his eyes didn't light up even a little bit when he saw his Cincinnati counterpart, Bob Boone, pop out of the Reds first-base dugout in the eighth inning at Cinergy Field on Friday.
Boone had just watched his left-handed reliever, Gabe White, issue a one-out walk to left-handed hitting first baseman Tino Martinez. Figuring White was done and noticing a right-handed hitter, shortstop Edgar Renteria, on deck, Boone decided to call in right-handed closer and noted sinkerball-thrower Danny Graves.
"When Bob brought him in, I was thinking 'Uh, oh, double play. We're going to go the ninth or 10th (inning),'" La Russa said.
But the cards -- so to speak -- couldn't have been stacked more in St. Louis's favor. Going into the game, Renteria was hitting .287 against right-handers and .250 against left-handers. In his career, he was a .310 hitter against the Reds, including .300 at Cinergy Field. He had gone 0-for-4 against White, 5-for-11 against Graves.
The numbers don't always tell the story in baseball, but sometimes, they can't be denied. This time, the result was almost predictable. Renteria lined Graves's first pitch down the right-field line and over the wall for a two-run homer that snapped a 2-2 tie and gave the Cardinals a 4-2 victory in their sort-of-important showdown series with the first-place Reds.
"I know Graves is a great closer," Renteria said. "I got lucky. I was looking for a fastball outside, and I got it. When you go up against a pitcher like that, you get it in your mind to just look for one pitch. I knew he was going to come after me.
"I always hit to the opposite field, but I usually don't have that much power there," he added.
Renteria's homer, his second in four games over five days after not hitting one since last August 20, gave the Cardinals consecutive wins for the first time since since they won two straight at Montreal on April 26 and 27. St. Louis pulled within 4 1/2 games of Cincinnati but remained two games behind second-place Pittsburgh.
Renteria's homer also gave right-hander Gene Stechschulte a much-deserved win, his third in four decisions and first since April 26th. Stechschulte inherited a bases-loaded situation in the sixth inning and used a sidearm slider to catch Aaron Boone looking before allowing Cincinnati to score the game-tying run on pinch-hitter Sean Casey's sacrifice fly.
"That was a bad outing for me," Stechschulte said, half-jokingly. "I got a blown save, but there was nothing you could do about that. Actually, it was a good outing for me. I'm not complaining."
Renteria has been among St. Louis's most efficient clutch hitters this season. Going into the game, he was leading the Cardinals with 11 two-out RBIs, and he was batting .368 with runners in scoring position.
Still, La Russa wasn't expecting his veteran shortstop to have that much success against Graves, even with the track record.
"It didn't make a difference," La Russa said. "Eleven at bats is nothing. Four at bats is nothing. Bob made the move he needed to make."
Casey's sacrifice fly also cost starter Jason Simontacchi a shot at his second win in two Major League starts. Control is Simontacchi's bread-and-butter, but he wasn't as sharp as usual Friday, allowing two walks and hitting a batter in five-plus innings.
The two walks didn't hurt, but hitting Austin Kearns proved costly. The Cardinals had just squeezed ahead, 2-1, when Simontacchi allowed Juan Encarnacion to lead off the sixth with a double and followed up by hitting Kearns in the left hip. That slipup prompted La Russa to lift his starter and helped set the stage for the sacrifice fly, which cost Simontacchi a shot at the decision.
"He competed," La Russa said of Simontacchi. "He wasn't as sharp as he was the other day (in his major-league debut against Atlanta), but those guys just got finished scoring a hundred runs (actually, only 30 in three games) against Milwaukee. They've got a lot of tough outs, so give him some credit."
Mark Schmetzer is a free-lance writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.