Ankiel's majestic slam propels Cards
Outfielder hits go-ahead homer; Encarnacion hit by foul ball
ST. LOUIS -- Of all the ways that Rick Ankiel's return to the Major Leagues has been described, it's time to scratch one adjective. Nothing Ankiel does can any longer be referred to as "unbelievable."
Ankiel's remarkable story and brilliant season added still another chapter on Friday when the right fielder slugged his first Major League grand slam. The long ball completed the Cards' comeback from two early three-run deficits and gave them the lead for good in an 8-5 win over the Reds at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis pulled within two games of the first-place Cubs in the National League Central after Chicago lost earlier in the day. The Brewers are 1 1/2 games behind Chicago in second place.
Ankiel has gone deep five times in 17 games since his promotion from Triple-A Memphis. He has five multi-hit games and 14 RBIs in just over three weeks. Between Memphis and St. Louis, Ankiel has cranked 37 home runs in 2007.
"I think it's really impressive, but it's no surprise," said manager Tony La Russa, who passed Red Schoendienst for the franchise's all-time managerial wins lead in the victory. "He's playing exactly to his ability. It's fun to watch and it's given us a great lift."
With the Cardinals trailing, 4-3, in the sixth inning, So Taguchi hit a one-out pinch-hit double off of Gary Majewski. Taguchi entered the game after Juan Encarnacion was struck in the face by a foul ball while waiting to pinch-hit.
Brendan Ryan reached on an infield hit, and Majewski hit David Eckstein with a pitch to load the bases. Reds manager Pete Mackanin called on Eddie Guardado, a left-hander, to face the lefty-swinging Ankiel, but the move did not work. Ankiel jumped on a 1-1 offering from Guardado and deposited it 396 feet into the stands in left-center.
"I was so excited," Ankiel said. "It felt so good. When I hit it, I wasn't sure it was gone but I knew it had a chance. Once I realized it was a home run, a grand slam to put us ahead, there's no better feeling."
The Cards stretched the lead to 8-4 before Jason Isringhausen surrendered a single run in the ninth to make it a three-run final score.
If the game was won in the sixth, however, it was likely saved in the first and second. Starter Anthony Reyes had an extremely rough night, but each time he was scored upon, his offense rallied back. And La Russa's unusually quick hook with Reyes allowed the stout St. Louis bullpen to keep the club in the game.
Reyes was tagged for three runs on a Josh Hamilton home run, a hit batsman, triple and double in the first, putting his team in a hole before its first turn at bat. But Jim Edmonds' RBI double in the bottom of the inning took a sliver out of the lead right away.
"I just tried to keep battling," Reyes said. "I was throwing it and I didn't really have a good release point on every pitch, so I was just trying to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. I was just struggling with command today.
"It was just not a good day for me."
Edwin Encarnacion's homer and a walk to pitcher Tom Shearn ended Reyes' night before he recorded out No. 4. Todd Wellemeyer got what may have been one of the biggest outs of the game, inducing a double play from the dangerous Hamilton and getting Alex Gonzalez to ground out before the heart of the order could swing the bat again. Wellemeyer walked three, but didn't allow a hit or a run in his three innings of relief.
"It seemed like I led the inning off with a walk every time," Wellemeyer said. "I probably should have just stayed out of the stretch -- but good thing for the double-play rule."
When Yadier Molina went deep in the bottom of the second, it was a one-run game, and Reyes' struggles had been all but erased. Randy Flores pitched two shutout innings of relief for the win, followed by two more shutout frames from Ryan Franklin before Isringhausen tossed the ninth.
The Cards asked for, and got, eight innings from their bullpen. With reinforcements on the way, in the form of September callups on Saturday, La Russa could afford to ride his relief corps hard for the win.
"[Reyes] was off and he was getting flustered," La Russa said. "This is one day before September. We've got help coming tomorrow. That's why this is the most fun time to compete, whether you're a player, a coach or a manager. The end is in sight and you can start playing it more like it's the last game of the season instead of investing in the rest of the season."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.