09/02/09 12:14 AM ET
Holliday's homer leads Cards past Crew
Pineiro gets a lift from Redbirds' offense for a change
By B.J. Rains / MLB.com
Pineiro dug his team a deep hole early and a smaller one later, but his offense helped him out again and again as the Cardinals beat the Brewers, 7-4, at Busch Stadium. Albert Pujols hit a solo home run to get the home team going and Matt Holliday crunched a three-run shot to cap off the win. The Cardinals have won four straight and eight out of nine and they're 29-13 since the All-Star break. Their lead over the second-place Cubs remained at 10 1/2 games in the National League Central.
But it looked at several points like the hot streak might hit a bump in the road on Tuesday.
Pineiro surrendered a three-run homer in the first inning, and the deficit stayed at three until the fourth. Shortly after the Redbirds rallied to tie the score, he was touched for another run. It was not Pineiro's sharpest night. But after plenty of games earlier in the year when he pitched well and took a loss or a no-decision, on this occasion it was the St. Louis offense picking Pineiro up.
"There's usually no justice in baseball," said manager Tony La Russa. "But Joel's pitched better than his number of losses. The offense picked him up some today. But he also, after the first inning, only gave up one more run."
Even after Holliday's three-run blast gave the Cards a 7-4 lead, things got interesting once again. Newly re-signed closer Ryan Franklin was touched for two runs in the ninth as Milwaukee made it dicey one more time. Still, the Cardinals escaped thanks to an offensive attack that saw six different players score a run, drive one in or both.
"The credit goes to the offense, picking me up so big," Pineiro said. "After I gave up that three-run homer, I settled down and I was able to keep the team in the ballgame. That was the big key. You know this offense can come back at any time, so I stayed positive even though it wasn't my best stuff."
With the Cards trailing in the fourth inning, Pujols started things by smoking a 3-2 pitch from former teammate Braden Looper over the wall in left. Three straight singles made it a two-run game, and Yadier Molina's double-play grounder brought in the tying run. That's where the game stood until the sixth, when three Brewers singles put the visitors ahead again.
But the St. Louis offense wasn't going quietly this time. A two-out rally in the bottom of the sixth started with Ryan Ludwick's double and concluded when Molina singled him home after an intentional walk to Colby Rasmus. An inning later, the Redbirds took control.
And once again it was a double, this time by Skip Schumaker, and an intentional walk, this one to Pujols. That brought up Holliday with two out and two on, and he jumped the first pitch that Todd Coffey threw for a 416-foot rocket to left.
"I went right after him and I got beat," Coffey said. "I thought it was in, but up a little bit more than I wanted it to be. I knew he was first-ball hacking right there in that situation, and I was trying to use that to my advantage. It didn't work."
Holliday didn't think twice about the Brewers putting Pujols on to pitch to him, despite his ridiculously torrid hitting since he was traded to St. Louis in July.
"I would anticipate Albert being walked if Babe Ruth was hitting behind him," Holliday said. "Forty-two home runs on Sept. 1, I think he's the best player ever. Of all time. You look at his first nine seasons, it would be hard to argue."
Those runs were enough to make Pineiro the pitcher of record, although he was removed for a pinch-hitter to start the inning. The support is still somewhat novel to Pineiro, who got very little help from his offense earlier in the year. At one point, he went nine straight starts without the Cardinals scoring more than three runs in a game he pitched.
Now that's turned around. And as a result, St. Louis has won his past 11 starts.
"Our pitchers are going to give up some runs like Pineiro in the first inning, but he started making some pitches and kept us in the game and we added a run here and there and we took Looper out and took advantage of the bullpen," said Pujols. "As a team, that's what you need to do, those little things, and that's what we've been doing so consistently over the last 20-plus games. It's not like we weren't doing it early, but it wasn't clicking the right way. Now it's just coming all together."
B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.