Notes: Pitchers like ground game
Cardinals hurlers adept at getting double-play balls
ST. LOUIS -- With all the deserved attention that has gone to the Cardinals' record-setting double-play combination, it seems that perhaps something has been overlooked.
Yes, David Eckstein is sure-handed, and makes that flip to second base quickly. Yes, Mark Grudzielanek has a cannon of a throwing arm and a quick release, and he hangs in no matter who's bearing down on him.
But remember this: Somebody has to make the pitches to get those ground balls so Eckstein and Grudzielanek can rack up all those twin killings. And the Cardinals' pitching staff relishes the chance to let them do their jobs. That's one reason that St. Louis finished first in the National League in ERA, despite ranking 12th -- 12th! -- in strikeouts.
When a Cardinals pitcher gets runners on base, he doesn't try to get the whiff to get out of it. He tries the one-pitch approach.
"That is the key," said Eckstein. "The toughest thing sometimes is getting that ground ball, and they seem to get the ground ball. They might give up a hit. They might give up a walk. But they finally get that key ground ball when it's time to focus in. It's a good thing."
It's a symbiotic relationship. The ground ball-oriented pitching staff keeps the infielders on their toes. The guys catching the ball have to stay awake, because they know a ball can be coming at them at any time.
That, in turn, gives the pitchers confidence to attack the strike zone, rather than trying to throw the absolute perfect pitch on the edge of the black. It's led to eight double plays through four games in the playoffs for St. Louis. The Cards set a franchise record with 196 DPs in the regular season, a total that led the Majors.
"You've got to be ready for it," Grudzielanek said. "If it's not going through your mind, all of a sudden it's on you and you're not ready for it. We're thinking like that all the time. 'Here we go, get a ground ball.' Wherever it goes, all of us, the whole infield is thinking like that. We like that and we want that. It's a huge rally-killer."
Walker sore: Larry Walker did not take batting practice on Thursday, and the Cardinals right fielder isn't feeling particularly spry after a rough last game of the Division Series in San Diego.
"You've seen it before, got hit by a pitch, made that tumble in San Diego, he has a lot of parts of his body that are aching," La Russa said. "He feels he can go, he's in the lineup."
Walker picked up his first base hit of the postseason on Wednesday, but also struck out twice. He's 1-for-13 (.077) in the playoffs.
No replay, thanks: The disputed dropped-third-strike call in Wednesday night's Angels-White Sox game has led to discussions about the possibility of instant replay in baseball, but La Russa wants no part of it.
"That's not a close call for a couple of reasons," the manager said Thursday. "One, I think the umpires get a great a majority of them right. And plus there's an issue of time of game, and we're going to slow it down and get into instant replay? That's not consistent with what we're trying to do."
This date in Cardinals postseason history: On Oct. 13, 1982, the Cardinals pulled even with the Brewers at a game apiece in the World Series with a 5-4 win at Busch Stadium. John Stuper lasted just four innings, but the St. Louis bullpen was outstanding, capped by 2 1/3 shutout innings and a win for Bruce Sutter. Pete Ladd walked pinch-hitter Steve Braun with the bases loaded in the eighth inning to bring home the tie-breaking and eventual winning run.
Arizona update: Two Cardinals farmhands pitched two innings each for the Surprise Scorpions in their 10-1 win over Mesa in the Arizona Fall League on Wednesday. Rich Scalamandre allowed a run on three hits in his two frames, striking out two. Andy Cavazos did him one better, allowing no runs and one hit with four Ks. Cavazos picked up the win. Gabe Johnson doubled and scored in four at-bats, and Cody Haerther went 2-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBIs.
Coming up: The Cardinals and Astros both will work out at Minute Maid Park on Friday afternoon. The series resumes on Saturday in Houston with a 3:30 p.m. CT first pitch. The game will be carried live on FOX nationally with a broadcast time of 3 p.m.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.