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Closing in on 300: Isringhausen nears milestone mark for saves
ST. LOUIS — Getting to the point where the countdown to 300 saves could begin was quite an ordeal for St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen.
Isringhausen earned No. 290 with a perfect ninth inning Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds. He's tied for the National League lead with nine saves in 11 chances.
But there was no missing the sense of tension, even with a three-run lead, before first baseman Albert Pujols hauled in Ryan Freel's foul popup for the final out of a 5-2 victory.
"Yeah, it was a little nerve-wracking going out there," Isringhausen said. "Once you get out there and you get that scoreless inning, it helps things out a little bit. It's a lot easier to clear your head."
Isringhausen's bloated 6.00 ERA is a better indicator of his results. Lately he's been anything but reliable, with two blown saves and a loss in his previous six appearances. He allowed runs in four of the games.
Manager Tony La Russa never wavered in his support of Isringhausen, coming off perhaps his best year. Isringhausen was 32-for-34 last year, making a full recovery from hip surgery that sidelined him for the team's run to the 2006 World Series title.
The 35-year-old right-hander has saved 30 or more games in all but one of his six full seasons with the Cardinals, is their franchise career leader with 214 and is poised to become the 22nd member of the 300 club. There are seven active 300-plus save closers: Trevor Hoffman (528), Mariano Rivera (451), Billy Wagner (364), Troy Percival (329), Roberto Hernandez (326), Jose Mesa (321) and Todd Jones (306).
La Russa knows how tough that job can be. He's often said he'd begin building a team by first choosing a closer.
"I just have so much respect for how difficult it is to get those last outs," La Russa said. "I don't think he's ever gotten beat up. He's like our club, he's one of the guys that's been consistently outstanding."
Isringhausen knows better.
The low point probably was a three-run ninth against the Astros on April 25, including a home run to Carlos Lee, spoiling a sparkling effort by Braden Looper in a 3-2 loss. Milwaukee's Gabe Kapler hit a game-winning 12th-inning single off him April 22. He needed a three-run cushion to survive with a save in a 5-4 victory over the Brewers on April 16, and backed into a victory with a blown save April 12 against the Giants.
Isringhausen's outing against the Reds was the first time in five days that he'd been needed, compounding the misery. He threw in the bullpen Monday and Tuesday to keep himself sharp and fine-tune his delivery.
Nothing like positive results, though.
"Until then, I sit there and I think about every pitch that I made," Isringhausen said. "I wasn't making good pitches, and if I made a mistake it was getting hit.
"Sometimes you go through that period of time where you get away with pitches, but I wasn't getting away with them."
During his two bullpen sessions, he concentrated on keeping his pitches down until the luck turned. Movement on his two-seam, full-count fastball allowed him to get away with an otherwise fat pitch to Scott Hatteberg on a flyout to center.
"One-two-three," La Russa said. "That's a nice way for him to go into the off day."