08/22/2004 5:18 PM ET
Edgar powers streak to four
Morris limits Bucs to two runs to pick up win No. 13
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals may or may not ever see the dominant Matt Morris of 2001 ever again, the pitcher who finished third in Cy Young balloting and was the undisputed No. 1 starter on a playoff team. But they'll take what they seem to have found recently -- the consistently effective Morris who has put together a string of four solid starts.
|Edgar Renteria went 9-for-19 in the five-game series against the Pirates. (James A. Finley/AP)
Morris (13-8) spread 10 hits over seven innings, struck out six and walked one, picking up the win as the Cards beat the Pirates, 11-4, at Busch Stadium on Sunday afternoon. He held the Bucs to two runs and also added a single and a sacrifice fly to help St. Louis to its fourth straight win and 28th in 37 games since the All-Star break.
Morris, who has often alternated strong starts with frustrating ones this year, has pitched well each of his last four times out. Even in a game in Florida when he was charged with eight runs, the free agent-to-be threw the ball solidly but was betrayed by shoddy defense.
"I'm happy with the direction I'm going, especially this late in the season," said Morris, who has held opponents to four homers over his past 10 starts. "Usually you're winding down by now, but fortunately, I'm still on the upswing."
Baseball's best team improved its record to 82-42, a season-best 40 games over .500, and guaranteed its fifth straight winning season. The last time a St. Louis team stood 40 games above break-even was at the end of the 1985 season, when the eventual pennant-winning Redbirds were 101-61.
"That's a special number," said manager Tony La Russa. "We have a day off tomorrow so we can enjoy it before we start thinking about Cincinnati. That's a big number for August, and we've still got some August left."
Edgar Renteria provided more than enough offense for Morris with a three-run homer in the first and a two-run single in the seventh. Renteria's five RBIs equaled a career high, last set Sept. 18, 2003 against the Brewers. He went 9-for-19 with eight RBIs in the five-game series against Pittsburgh.
"I think you saw today why Edgar enjoys hitting in the middle of the lineup," said La Russa. "He gets really challenged by RBI situations. He's really good at it."
Larry Walker's second grand slam of the week -- and the season -- put the game out of reach in the eighth. The Cards reached double-digits in runs for the second game in a row and fourth time in the last nine games. Walker also drew a key walk in the first inning, battling through a 10-pitch plate appearance to earn the free pass. He went on to score on Renteria's homer, which came at the end of a 13-pitch at-bat.
"What we're doing right now is making the starting pitcher throw a lot of pitches," Renteria said. "That's our game plan."
The Bucs touched Morris for two runs in the first inning, but that was all he would yield. The first three batters, and four of the first five, singled against the right-hander before he found his way. He faced a first-and-third, one-out situation in the second but got a double play to end the threat. Over his final five innings, Morris permitted four base hits and allowed only two Pirates to reach second base.
In a couple of recent starts, such situations got away from Morris. But on Sunday he kept his composure, worked through it and lasted seven innings.
"I've been disappointed early when I [gave] up runs," he said, "because I go into the games with the frame of mind of not giving up any runs. And when you do, you don't want to just turn yourself off after that. Obviously there's a lot of game left, and the lineup we have can score some runs."
As quickly as Morris fell behind, he was immediately given a lead, thanks to a torrid offense. Walker drew a one-out walk in the first, then moved to second on an error. Pittsburgh walked Jim Edmonds intentionally, bringing Renteria to the plate -- and it almost worked out.
The All-Star shortstop fell behind 0-2, then fouled off three pitches in a row. He worked the count back to 2-2, and fouled off four more. After taking one more ball for a full count, Renteria deposited his ninth homer of the year over the fence in right field, and the Redbirds had a lead they would not relinquish.
"I fouled off his pitches and he finally threw me the pitch I was looking for," Renteria said. "He got two strikes and no balls, so I kept fouling and fouling. Then he threw me a couple balls. He tried to get it away, but he left it a little middle-away."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.