Cardinals put bullpen woes behind for sweep

Monday, May 5, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' weak link, a beleaguered bullpen, was kept out of the mix during a perfect 6-0 home stand.

The NL Central leaders parlayed the usual combination of stingy pitching and explosive offense in a 6-2 victory over the Montreal Expos on Sunday, getting a six-hitter by Matt Morris and a two-run home run by Scott Rolen. The Cardinals outscored the Expos and Mets 49-16, and the starters posted a 2.06 ERA.

The bullpen, which has blown eight of 13 save opportunities, totaled only two innings against the Expos as Jason Simontacchi and Garrett Stephenson worked eight innings apiece in the first two games of the series. No relievers were even warming up in the ninth inning of the series finale as Morris wrapped up a 125-pitch complate game.

"He was in a better groove at the end than the beginning," manager Tony La Russa said. "If he had any trouble we'd have gotten him out, but he didn't."

The Cardinals have won a season-best seven in a row overall, with a 20-inning victory at Florida perhaps serving as a springboard to a homestand where everything went just right.

"Last year, I remember a game in Cincinnati when were down nine or something crazy and came back to win it, and that was looked upon all season as something to jump-start you," Morris said. "It's mostly timing.

"If you're hitting and pitching well, you're going to win."

It's the Cardinals' first homestand sweep of six or more games since they were 7-0 against the Reds and Phillies Aug. 13-19, 2001. It was their first three-game sweep of the Expos since Sept. 28-30, 1992, in St. Louis.

The Cardinals scored five runs off Javier Vazquez, winning the finale in blustery 58-degree weather after heavy rain earlier in the day. The Expos were swept for the second time this season, also dropping three straight to the Braves in Puerto Rico on April 15-17.

The Expos totaled four runs in the series, although manager Frank Robinson blamed his hitters more than credited the Cardinals' hitters.

"I don't know if the pitching was that good," Robinson said. "I wasn't impressed."

Morris (3-2) won his second straight start, striking out six and walking two in his 10th career complete game and second this season. The Cardinals led 5-0 before Brad Wilkerson hit a two-run double in the sixth.

Morris has allowed nine earned runs in his last five starts for a 1.84 ERA.

Vazquez (3-2) retired his first five batters before running into trouble. Tino Martinez and Edgar Renteria doubled with two outs in the second for a run, and Mike Matheny followed with a run-scoring single to make it 2-0.

Albert Pujols singled and scored on a double by Jim Edmonds before Rolen hit his sixth homer over the right-field wall, driving the ball through a stiff wind to put the Cardinals ahead 5-0. Rolen had been 1-for-8 in the series before hitting his first homer since he hit two on April 16.

"I thought it was a pop fly to the right fielder, but I guess the ball kept carrying," Vazquez said. "I didn't think it was going out."

Vazquez lasted six innings, allowing five runs on six hits, and retired his last 10 batters. He allowed only two runs in 14 innings his previous two starts.

Jose Vidro was 3-for-3 with a walk for the Expos.

The Cardinals added a run in the eighth on three walks and a sacrifice fly by Matheny.

Noteworthy

Vazquez leads the NL with 64 strikeouts. ... Edmonds is 14-for-33 during an eight-game hitting streak. ... Vazquez walked two, the first walks by Montreal in the series. ... Manager Tony La Russa has 621 victories with the Cardinals, passing Billy Southworth for third place on the franchise list. ... Due to the weather, there were nearly 12,000 no-shows from a paid attendance of 39,605. ... Morris also threw a complete game at Houston on April 11, a 3-2 loss.

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