Cardinals slam Cubs in series finale
Rolen, Duncan and Pujols each go deep for Redbirds
ST.LOUIS -- Chris Duncan was sitting around the clubhouse with a few teammates last weekend, watching baseball highlights, when he saw his brother, Shelley, hit his first career Major League home run.
After the homer, Shelley celebrated with Yankees teammate Melky Cabrera like Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco used to in Oakland, with a forearm smash, when they formed the "Bash Brothers." It brought a smile to Chris' face and gave him an idea.
So, when the younger Duncan hit a grand slam in the fifth inning Thursday night against the Cubs, he figured he would copy his brother. When Duncan got into the dugout, Aaron Miles, who grew up in Pittsburg, Calif., outside of Oakland, was waiting for him with his forearm ready.
"We saw that on TV, and we're saying how we wanted to bring the bash back. I was pretty pumped up after I hit that, so thought it was a good time to break it out," Duncan said.
Indeed, the Cards brought the bash back in more ways than one Thursday, as they pounded out three home runs en route to an 11-1 win over the Cubs.
Scott Rolen started the home run binge to give the Cards a 1-0 lead.
After starter Braden Looper put up his fifth zero in a row in the top of the fifth, the Cards exploded for nine runs over the next two innings.
After Jim Edmonds walked with one out in the fifth to load the bases, Albert Pujols was hit high in the back to bring in a run. With the bases still loaded, the Cards' hottest bat in July came up.
Duncan immediately fell behind, 0-2, to former Cardinal Jason Marquis on two called strikes. After fouling a couple of pitches off and working the count to 2-2, Duncan hammered a pitch over the right-field wall for his second career grand slam, giving the Cards a 6-0 lead.
"I was mad because he made two good pitches to get ahead right away," Duncan said. "With runners on, I like to be aggressive early in the at-bat. I was just trying to put the ball in play. I knew I hit it hard off the bat, but wasn't sure if it was going to get out."
For Duncan, the homer just continued his outstanding month of July. The left-handed-hitting slugger is batting .393 in the month, with six homers and 22 RBIs in just 15 starts.
An inning later, Pujols put an exclamation point on the Cards' offensive explosion. Looper got the scoring going in the sixth with an RBI single, scoring Yadier Molina. Three hitters later, with one out and two runners on, Pujols came through with a three-run shot to give the Cards a 10-1 lead.
Pujols entered that at-bat 0-for-11 in the series. He added an RBI single in the eighth for his fifth RBI of the night.
Cards manager Tony La Russa said, like many other Major Leaguers in late July, Pujols has been dealing with a few bumps and bruises lately.
"There's no doubt he's weary. He's achy in places, but he's gutting it out and going out there," La Russa said. "This guy has a high pain tolerance. In this case, I think it's more the aches and pains of being out there every day. I don't think he's hurt. I think he's sore and achy."
Before Rolen's homer in the fourth, the Cards had scored just one run in their previous 16 innings. They more than made up for it on Thursday, and it was plenty enough support for Looper.
The right-hander was outstanding. Looper went seven innings and gave up one run on five hits. He struck out three and walked two. It was the first time since May 12 against the Padres that Looper lasted at least seven innings, and just his second win in his last nine starts.
The converted reliever has struggled with putting together several good outings in a row in the second part of his season. Before Thursday's solid performance, Looper was roughed up in Atlanta, giving up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings last Saturday.
Now, Looper hopes that's a thing of the past and he can be strong for his team over the last two months of the season.
"If a guy makes 30 starts, for 15 of them he's going to have great stuff, for 10 of them he's going to have OK stuff, and for five of them he's going to have terrible stuff," Looper said. "The really good starting pitchers, when they have their battles, are still able to get outs. When I've had my battles, I haven't been able to get outs. It's something I'm going to have to learn how to do."
Thursday, Looper didn't have to worry about that, as his stuff was electric. La Russa said a good start from Looper was absolutely necessary with the Cards down a number of arms in their bullpen. The Cards are only carrying six relievers on the active roster right now, and used two of them for two innings each on Wednesday.
"He had to go six," La Russa said. "Then, once he got into the sixth and gave us one more after that, it helps us a little bit for this weekend."
After salvaging a game from the second-place Cubs, the Cards will now turn their attention to first-place Milwaukee. The Brewers come to St. Louis for a four-game series, leading the Cards by eight games.
"It's a huge series coming up," Duncan said. "We have to come out and play tough and do what we need to do to get some wins."
Daniel Berk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.