GAME 5: A Team Win
A slimmed-down Jake Westbrook made his 2012 debut with a curious performance, throwing a five-walk no-hitter through four innings and looking generally lost in the opening frames before settling in. He had plenty of support behind him, though, with four home runs in the first inning as the Cardinals bombed the Reds 7-1 at an empty Great American Ballpark.
HOMERED BAILEY: The muscular St. Louis lineup flexed mightily against Reds starter Homer Bailey in the first. With two outs, Matt Holliday, David Freese (a two-run shot) and Yadier Molina ripped round-trippers to the deepest part of the ballpark for a quick 4-0 lead. That’s only the fifth time in franchise history that the Cards have hit three homers in the first. In just five games, the Cards have had two multiple-homer innings. Pretty incredible and surprising power.
WALKBROOK: Westbrook struggled to find the strike zone for the first half of the game. He gave up five walks in four innings and looked uncomfortable. Fortunately the Reds looked just as confused as Westbrook when they had something to hit. Just not a pretty start to his game.
CRAZY D: When was the last time we saw defensive plays as crazy as the ones in the fourth and fifth innings tonight? Rafael Furcal had a sloppy error in the fourth, and immediately made up for it with a spectacular, Ozzie Smith-styled diving play. Then, Westbrook picked off a runner at first, which led to Lance Berkman sprawling out to tag the runner. In the fifth, Westbrook stopped a liner up the middle and made a sprawling, frantic throw into right field that led to an unearned run. The ball was all over the place tonight, and it was the first time we’ve seen sloppy defense from these guys.
CREDIT IS DUE: After four terrible innings and a defensive mess in the fifth, it was something special seeing Westbrook out on the mound in the seventh inning still holding the Reds at bay. Truthfully, Westy looked better as the game went on. In past years, Westbrook would’ve come unravelled with a start like this, so it was refreshing and inspiring to see him overcome his control problems and dominate.
NOT SO GREAT: Where were the fans for tonight’s game? Great American Ballpark looked like a half-empty spring training facility. If the Reds really want to pay Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips huge sums of money, they’d better have a coupon night VERY soon. It’s unacceptable to see one of America’s oldest baseball towns abandoning their talented team so early in the season.
HIT AND RUN: With Berkman and Freese on first and second in the eighth, Mike Matheny called a hit and run with high-contact hitter Yadier Molina at the plate. Molina slashed a high fastball into deep left-center for a two-run double. Anyone still concerned about that shiny new contract for Molina? Also, you gotta love that this team is relentlessly aggressive, even with a nice lead late in the game. Awesome!
VETERAN ROOKIE: The whining and complaints about Matheny being “too inexperienced” to manage the Cardinals have been quickly silenced by Matheny’s deft manipulation of the bullpen. His matchups have been spot-on, and show a mind thinking several batters ahead much like certain fabled, well-respected Hall of Fame managers who shall remain nameless. He’s been very, very impressive.
REDEMPTION: Fernando Salas has looked bad most of the spring and in his first few appearances. But, with a six-run lead in the ninth, Salas was given the ball and a chance to prove himself. Did he ever! Salas set down the Reds in order, capping off an effective inning with a nasty strikeout of Chris Heisey to end it. Nice to see him back to form!
PLAYER OF THE GAME: It’s tempting to give it to Yadi for his big offense, but I’m inclined to give it to Westbrook instead. He struggled, yes, but he showed guts and flexibility in a seven-inning start. It was just the kind of start Westbrook needed to cleanse his palette after last year’s struggles.
CONCLUSION: Interesting stat - the Cardinals have two more 13-hit games than the rest of the National League combined. They didn’t have that many tonight, but it was another blistering and balanced offensive attack. In five games, I’ve never felt that the Cardinals had given up or become overwhelmed, something even last year’s team succumbed to once in a while. If we get consistent pitching like Westbrook provided tonight, this team will win many, many games this year.