St. Louis survives another shaky ninth inning

Saturday, April 11, 2009
Cardinals starting pitcher Joel Pineiro throws against the Astros during the second inning Friday in St. Louis. (JEFF ROBERSON ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals reliever Kyle McClellan got up in the bullpen Friday night to throw what he thought would be a side session.

A few minutes later he was called in to save a game.

McClellan ended up getting the final two outs against the Houston Astros in relief of rookie Jason Motte, who struggled again by giving up two hits to three batters to start the ninth, and St. Louis held on for a 5-3 win.

"I was up first just to throw side because I hadn't thrown in four days," McClellan said. "I just wanted to get some work in and watch. Then I had to get right back up and get in there.

"That's life in the bullpen. We're constantly doing that, getting ready for this guy and something changes and then we're getting ready for next inning."

Cardinals baserunner Albert Pujols scores as Astros catcher Ivan Rodriguez drops the throw during the third inning Friday in St. Louis. (JEFF ROBERSON ~ Associated Press)

As a rookie last season, McClellan was credited with one save when he pitched the last three innings of a game. Friday was much different, entering a two-run game with the potential go-ahead run at the plate.

"It was definitely a different intensity," he said. "It was a good rush."

Although McClellan didn't know it, he was Plan B if Motte struggled, St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa said.

"We had McClellan behind him if we needed him," LaRussa said. "Some day, [Motte] will look at these and he will learn from them. We're not at that point yet. Certainly, when you had a couple of guys on, I thought it was time to go get him."

Ryan Ludwick homered and drove in two runs, and extended his career-best hitting streak to 15 games, including the last 11 of 2008. Skip Schumaker added three hits and Chris Duncan and Yadier Molina also had RBIs for the Cardinals.

Joel Pineiro (1-0) allowed two runs and eight hits over 6 2/3 innings for the win.

"The way I finished off in spring training, I wanted to build off of that and start the season like that," said Pineiro, who pitched six innings of shutout ball against Florida on March 30 in his last time out. "The sinker got the groundball outs."

Carlos Lee went 3-for-4 with a solo homer for Houston. Lance Berkman added an RBI double and Kazuo Matsui a bases-loaded walk to account for the Astros' runs.

"We had plenty of chances," Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. "We just kind of missed the big hit."

Mike Hampton (0-1), who made his first regular-season appearance with the Astros since he beat Los Angeles 9-4 on Oct. 3, 1999, gave up three runs on four hits and four walks in five innings.

"I felt good out there," Hampton said. "They battled me hard out there in every at-bat."

The Cardinals got to Hampton right away, with Schumaker hitting a leadoff infield single. Hampton then retired Khalil Greene and Albert Pujols, but Ludwick walked to keep the inning alive, and Duncan hit a run-scoring single to right.

Some erratic pitching cost Hampton two more runs in the third when he hit Greene to start the inning then walked Pujols. Greene later came home on Ludwick's RBI double to right that sent Pujols to third, and Molina hit an RBI fielder's choice back to the pitcher.

Berkman got the Astros on the board in the sixth with an RBI double, but Schumaker got that run back in the bottom of the frame with an RBI double of his own.

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