Cardinals ride defense to win vs. Bucs
Ankiel's sensational catch in center field sets tone
ST. LOUIS -- As the old adage goes, defense wins championships.
If the saying proves anything remotely correct, then the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals look like a team that could be a factor deep into October.
Led by their stellar play in the field, the Cardinals rolled to their fourth win in five games, a 7-4 victory over the Pirates on Sunday at Busch Stadium.
Whether it's been the sure-handed Cesar Izturis at shortstop, the rocket arm of Yadier Molina behind the plate or the electrifying leaps from Rick Ankiel in center field, defense is the one thing the Cardinals haven't lacked this year.
The Cardinals have the seventh-best fielding percentage in all of baseball (.986) and have committed only 30 errors on the year. Sunday, they utilized their defense to the max against the Pirates.
"Winning baseball surrounds itself around pitching and defense," Cardinals third baseman Troy Glaus said. "You're not going to hit every day."
And the defense emerged, most notably from Ankiel's Jim Edmonds-esque dive in the second inning. Ankiel dove on his way to the warning track, catching an Xavier Nady fly ball just short of hitting the center-field wall.
As soon as he stood up with the ball in his glove, the crowd erupted and jaws dropped in both dugouts.
"That was an unbelievable play," Pirates third baseman Jose Bautista said. "By far the best I've seen all year."
Energy swelled through the Cardinals after Ankiel's catch -- and for a better part of the year, they've had an energy they lacked in 2007.
Last year, some of those balls became hits, but not with the scrappy Cardinals this year. Players make the extra dive, the forceout becomes a double play, and even the misplayed balls come down as outs.
"It seemed like we had a lot of naysayers on the outside," Ankiel said. "But everyone in the clubhouse knew how good we could be. I think it's just starting to come out."
When left fielder Skip Schumaker misplayed a ball in the third, he readjusted to make a diving catch. Second baseman Adam Kennedy's play on a groundball took away a sure run from the Pirates in the fifth. And while the Pirates chipped away from the deficit, the defense never faltered.
Turning to small ball, the Cardinals scored five runs in the second inning on five singles and a walk. Schumaker, who went 2-for-4 on the day, hit a two-run single to cap the rally.
After struggling with the bat over the last few weeks, Glaus has rediscovered his swing. Glaus went 3-for-4 with a home run, his second in as many days.
Even though Cardinals starter Braden Looper struggled at times on a muggy day, his 5 2/3 innings and three runs allowed were good enough to propel him to his sixth win.
"I think guts is a good way to describe it because he put a lot into that game," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Ryan Franklin made the ninth inning interesting, getting the first two outs but putting runners on second and third with the potential tying run at the plate. However, he coaxed Doug Mientkiewicz to fly out to left field to end the game.
Even though the Cardinals got back to 10 games over .500 for the third time this year, they still trail the Cubs by 2 1/2 games in the National League Central standings.
Lee Hurwitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.