High-priced Rolen proving his worth

Monday, May 19, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Scott Rolen, the highest-paid St. Louis Cardinal in franchise history, looks the part right now.

Rolen drove in four runs and Albert Pujols snapped a seventh-inning tie with a run-scoring infield hit in a 6-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.

Rolen is 17-for-41 during a 12-game hitting streak (.415) with four homers and 11 RBIs and is batting .294 overall, a 51-point jump.

"It's just the averages," manager Tony La Russa said of Rolen, who signed an eight-year, $90 million contract last year. "At the end of the season he's going to have another big year. He's just too talented."

The Cardinals have won only four of their last 12. But they maintained their mastery over the Cubs, who are 4-22 at Busch Stadium the last four seasons and haven't won consecutive games there since June 20-21, 2001.

Chicago has won seven of 10, but has dropped two of the first three games in the four-game series. The Cubs played the seventh game of a 14-game trip, the longest for the team since 1983.

"Perhaps we were dragging today, but we'll feel a lot better tomorrow," manager Dusty Baker said. "We're 5-2 halfway through the road trip and I'll take 5-2 for the next half."

Fernando Vina drew a four-pitch walk to lead off the seventh against Juan Cruz (1-2) and advanced to third on a sacrifice and groundout. With two outs, Pujols hit a slow roller to the third base side for an infield hit. Reliever Antonio Alfonseca's late throw to first was wild, allowing Pujols to go to third.

Rolen followed with a two-run homer off Alfonseca for a three-run cushion. He said he laid off two sinkers before jumping on a fastball.

"Your eyes don't light up when a guy is throwing 95 mph; it looks kind of like an aspirin coming up there," Rolen said. "I was looking for something up a little bit and got a ball up over the plate."

Dustin Hermanson (1-1) worked out of a seventh-inning jam, allowing one run after entering the game with the bases loaded and nobody out. Cal Eldred got two outs for his third career save -- all in the last four days.

The Cardinals signed Eldred in the offseason thinking he'd have a shot at making the rotation.

"I think he's challenged by it and he's the kind of guy that loves the challenge," La Russa said. "That was impressive today."

Cardinals starter Jason Simontacchi lasted six innings, giving up three runs and four hits. He was criticized for pitching "backwards" by La Russa in his last start, in which he allowed seven runs in 1 2-3 innings, and was more conscious of going after the hitters this time around although he walked four.

Back-to-back walks to Troy O'Leary and Hee Seop Choi chased Simontacchi and helped the Cubs tie it in the seventh. Corey Patterson doubled to open the seventh and scored on a single by Moises Alou, and the tying run scored on a double-play ball by Ramon Martinez.

"I left us in a bad place," Simontacchi said. "Hermy came in and shut the door."

Cubs starter Shawn Estes was lifted by Baker after throwing 105 pitches in five innings, allowing three runs, five hits and three walks.

The Cardinals got all three runs off Estes in the first on Rolen's two-run double and a run-scoring single by Mike Matheny.

"Throwing 30-something pitches in the first inning doesn't really help the pitch count too much," Estes said. "It made Dusty's decision pretty easy there in the sixth inning."

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