Error-free Birds

Saturday, October 16, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Dominant hitting has been the St. Louis Cardinals' calling card this postseason. They're averaging six runs and two homers over six games, five of which they've won.

What's gone largely unnoticed as they've built a 2-0 lead over the Houston Astros in the NLCS is their defense. They're the only team left in the postseason yet to commit an error.

This is not to say that other teams are exactly butchering plays in the field. The Yankees and Red Sox had committed one error apiece entering Game 3 of the ALCS on Friday night and the Astros had five.

Still, perfection is something else.

"Our defense comes up big night in and night out," center fielder Jim Edmonds said. "So we don't have to win just offensively. We can get big outs when we need them on defense."

Four Cardinals won Gold Gloves last year. Edmonds is one of the best at pulling home runs out of the stands. Shortstop Edgar Renteria has great range and an arm to match. Catcher Mike Matheny has a good arm and is one of the best at blocking balls in the dirt. Third baseman Scott Rolen is the best defensively that manager Tony La Russa has ever seen.

Right fielder Larry Walker has won seven Gold Gloves, giving the team a total of 22 including six from Edmonds, five from Rolen and two each from Matheny and Renteria.

The others can make the plays, too.

Matheny, first baseman Albert Pujols and left fielder Reggie Sanders all made defensive contributions to a 6-4 Game 2 victory on Thursday night. Matheny picked off Jeff Bagwell on a strikeout, producing a double play that defused a potential rally. Pujols swooped in on pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett's sacrifice bunt attempt and turned it into an easy forceout at third that Rolen nearly turned into a double play.

And Sanders, never noted for his arm, tracked down Jose Vizcaino's drive to the gap then wheeled and threw him out trying to go for a double. The key to the play was not slipping on wet grass in a game played in 48-degree weather and steady rain.

"I was able to keep my feet underneath me and not fall down," Sanders said. "My objective was just to get the ball in as fast as I could."

The Cardinals committed 97 errors in the regular season, only sixth-best in the NL. But so far, the postseason has been their time.

"You have to play different right now to win some games," Pujols said. "If we were better in the year, we need to get even better right now because if you make a mistake they can make you pay.

"You want to make sure you're on your toes."

Two of the big plays came in the sixth to keep the Cardinals ahead 4-3. Sanders, who had six outfield assists in the regular season, threw out Vizcaino to start the inning. The next batter, Brad Ausmus, singled, and Bruntlett was trying to move him up a base.

But Pujols was well in on the grass and ready to pounce when Bruntlett bunted.

"I knew that it had been raining a lot," Pujols said. "I just want to make sure I get there, get the ball and just give it a good throw and try to get an out, not try and get a double play."

Matheny's work behind the plate minimized leadoff walks to Carlos Beltran and Bagwell by Matt Morris to start the third. On strike three to Jeff Kent he caught Bagwell straying off first.

Matheny also caught Morgan Ensberg trying to steal second in the seventh after Ensberg had tied the game at 4 with a single.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: