LaRue bookends Cards' hitting assault
Catcher plates three vs. Bucs; Cards 2 1/2 back in Wild Card
ST. LOUIS -- The backup catcher role isn't made for glamour, but never underestimate its importance.
A case in point came Wednesday night as Jason LaRue picked up the catcher's gear and simultaneously picked up the Cardinals in their 11-2 victory over the Pirates at Busch Stadium. Starting catcher Yadier Molina was in the original lineup, but became a late scratch because of a left foot contusion.
LaRue, who prides himself on always being ready to jump into the action at a moment's notice, came romping to the rescue by going 2-for-3 with three RBIs. LaRue also handled a committee of five St. Louis pitchers who limited the Pirates to a Ryan Doumit two-run homer in the second.
Some clubs might be in trouble when finding out shortly before the national anthem that their starting catcher can't go. But LaRue has shown he can be a happy solution for that type of problem.
"Every day, I come to the ballpark prepared to play, just in case something happens," LaRue said.
LaRue came up in the second with men at second and third and nobody out. After the Cardinals had endured a tough offensive night on Tuesday, they needed a good piece of situational hitting in that spot to set a positive tone. LaRue came through with a sacrifice fly off Pirates starter Jason Davis to get St. Louis on the board.
In the fourth, LaRue sparked a three-run rally with a double to left. He capped a big offensive night with a two-run homer in the seventh. It was LaRue's first homer at the new Busch Stadium.
"I got a fastball up over the plate and made solid contact," LaRue said.
Cardinals starter Todd Wellemeyer was the prime benefactor of the offensive wakeup call. After four innings, St. Louis had already scored eight runs and Wellemeyer was well on his way to a fourth straight victory and 11th on the season.
Wellemeyer made it through just five innings as his pitch count reached 95 at that juncture.
"There were some key situations where they had a chance to capitalize and he was able to make good pitches," LaRue said. "There were some situations where he could have gotten outs on 0-2 or 1-2 counts and we wound up going 2-2. I have to tip my hat to their guys because they didn't chase those pitches."
The Cardinals (71-58) kept pace with National League Wild Card leader Milwaukee and won for just the fourth time in their last 12 home games. St. Louis still has five games left on the homestand with a couple of off-days spliced in.
Manager Tony La Russa saw a noticeable difference in the number of quality at-bats from his club after a flat performance on Tuesday.
"It shows we can do it," La Russa said. "We had a lot of good at-bats up and down the lineup, a lot of clutch hitting."
The big push came in the third and fourth innings when the Cardinals broke away from a 2-2 tie to assume a comfortable six-run cushion. Skip Schumaker opened the third with a single and Ryan Ludwick doubled. An RBI groundout by Albert Pujols and a two-run homer by Rick Ankiel meant the Cardinals were on their way.
Another three-run rally followed in the fourth and was aided by an Adam LaRoche error at first base. Meanwhile, Wellemeyer was keeping Pittsburgh off the board, albeit with more pitches than he would have desired.
"It was a battle tonight," Wellemeyer said. "They were fouling everything off and I had some long at-bats against guys. But we still won."
With an off-day on Thursday, La Russa had the luxury of using his bullpen relatively early. Russ Springer, Jaime Garcia, Ryan Franklin and Chris Perez all got work to seal the deal.
Wellemeyer had one blooper-reel moment after stroking a run-scoring single past first in the second inning. Thinking about going for two, Wellemeyer slipped down on a wet field while rounding the bag.
That wasn't a problem for the Cardinals. For most of the night, it was the Pirates who did the falling.
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.