Ankiel's return highlights Cards loss

Monday, September 20, 2004

The left-hander made his first Busch Stadium appearance in over three years in Sunday's 3-2 loss to Arizona.

By R.B. Fallstrom ~ The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa tried to pretend the Cardinals had not already clinched the NL Central. The manager's psych job didn't work Sunday.

St. Louis lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-2 in a game notable mostly for Rick Ankiel's first outing at Busch Stadium since May 10, 2001. Ankiel, who has battled wildness and injury, pitched two hitless innings with one walk and four strikeouts -- striking out the side in the fifth on 14 pitches.

The Cardinals clinched their third division title in five seasons on Saturday when they beat Arizona 7-0, San Francisco lost to San Diego 5-1 and the Chicago Cubs lost to Cincinnati 6-5. Those results guaranteed that St. Louis would finish no worse than tied at 97 wins with the Cubs, who also would be guaranteed a playoff berth. Under baseball's rules, St. Louis would be awarded the NL Central title because it won the season series 11-8 and Chicago would get the wild-card berth.

So even though T-shirts commemorating the achievement already were on sale outside the ballpark and public address announcer John Ulett referred to the clinching a playoff spot, La Russa and his players preferred to ignore the mathematics.

On the message board just inside the clubhouse door, La Russa wrote: "Magic Is 1. Championship Won On Field. Not Some Formula!!!"

Ankiel's previous home appearance was a mess. He threw five pitches to the backstop in three wild innings, and was optioned to Triple-A Memphis the following day. He then battled control problems in the minors and had reconstructive elbow surgery in July 2003.

Arizona rookie Michael Gosling, making his fourth major league appearance and second start, won in his first big league decision by allowing two runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings. Four relievers finished, with Greg Aquino working the ninth for his 13th save in 14 chances.

Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan (15-8) threw 44 pitches in the fourth inning, 39 with two outs. Walks to Shea Hillenbrand and Chris Snyder sandwiched around a single by Chad Tracy loaded the bases, and Doug DeVore's bad-hop infield hit gave Arizona its first run. Scott Hairston followed with a two-run single for a 3-2 lead.

Larry Walker hit a two-run homer in the third, his 15th of the season and ninth in 32 games with the Cardinals, who have lost seven of their last 12 games. Suppan, whose previous best for wins was 13 last year, has allowed 10 runs -- four earned -- in 7 2-3 innings during his last two starts.

Notes: St. Louis won the season series against Arizona 5-1. ... Tony Womack has 37 infield hits, third best in the NL. ... Cardinals 3B Scott Rolen missed his eighth straight start with a strained left calf, but could return in the next few days. ... Diamondbacks LF Doug DeVore turned Albert Pujols' fly ball out into a double play in the first when he threw out Womack at plate. ... Edgar Renteria is in a 2-for-33 slump. ... The Diamondbacks ended a nine-game road losing streak.

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