Villanueva ignites fire in Cardinals with antics

Friday, August 29, 2008

ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Villanueva's mouth may have had a lot to do with the St. Louis Cardinals climbing back into the wild card picture.

Don't forget Troy Glaus' legs. He got the game-tying hit and then dashed home for the go-ahead run in the four-run eighth-inning rally in Wednesday's 5-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Albert Pujols, who has been known to flip his bat and linger at the plate after dramatic hits, said he didn't mind Villanueva doing an Incredible Hulk imitation and whooping it up a bit after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning. When Villanueva started pointing into the Cardinals' dugout, and then cursed at Pujols after the Cardinals' star objected, Pujols helped trigger a comeback that shaved Milwaukee's wild card lead to 3 1/2 games.

With six outs remaining in their final chance against the team they're pursuing, the Cardinals were angry, then inspired to end a string of seven straight losses to Milwaukee. La Russa said Villanueva did the Cardinals a "favor."

"He said something in Spanish that I don't want to say to you guys," Pujols told reporters. "That's when I got fired up and I told him to stop and come and say that in my face, and he was running away.

"It's the same way with hitting the ball out of the park and showing up the pitcher. Obviously, it was a big out he got. He pointed the wrong way, our dugout, and I didn't like that."

Glaus has zero steals and is largely a station to station runner, but he relished the opportunity to force the Brewers' defense to make a play. The Milwaukee infield was playing in, yet he was running on contact on pinch-hitter Aaron Miles' grounder to short. J.J. Hardy rushed a one-hop throw to the plate, catcher Jason Kendall stepped back to field it and Glaus slid in just ahead of the tag.

"It's a difficult play for an infielder because it's not something we do very often, and I've seen it work a lot more than it doesn't," Glaus said. "I'm glad they put it on. It's not something we practice a lot or have to execute very often, but if the ball's not hit right at them it becomes even more of a difficult play."

Glaus nearly got ejected for arguing a strikeout call in the seventh and had been 0-for-3 with all strikeouts before coming through in the eighth.

"It doesn't really matter if I struck out three, four or five times, there's always going to be another at-bat," Glaus said. "You had to kind of clear your head."

The finish could serve as a springboard for a difficult stretch, with 15 of the next 21 games on the road starting with a three-game series in Houston beginning today. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa predicted the Cardinals would "sprint into September and try to have six good months," and added, "I wouldn't bet against us having a good month."

As for Villanueva, given a do-over he'd keep the celebration to himself and quietly walk back to the dugout.

"I usually don't show my emotions that way, but it was the heat of the moment," he said. "If I had to do it again, I'd probably just walk off the mound."


* The Cardinals have had double-digit hits nine of the last 12 games and are 64-13 under that scenario.

* Pujols batted .500 (13-for-26) on the homestand.

* Kyle Lohse makes his fifth attempt at his 14th victory, which would tie a career best, today in Houston. He's 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the last four starts. "He hasn't been bad," La Russa said. "He hasn't gotten away with anything. That means he just can't make any mistakes."

* Chris Carpenter's return is not yet imminent, with La Russa in his office talking to reporters during the injured right-hander's latest bullpen session Wednesday.

* La Russa said pitcher Joel Pineiro may have misspoke when he told reporters he'd be starting Monday at Arizona, or maybe the manager just wanted to make the announcement on his own timetable. "He can have an impression, and if you want to run with that, just make sure you blame him," La Russa said.

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