Cards exhibit opening-day lineup in 4-2 victory over Central rival

Friday, March 11, 2005

JUPITER, Fla. -- For the first time this spring, the St. Louis Cardinals fielded their opening-day lineup. That means right fielder Larry Walker's back is feeling a lot better.

Walker was 0-for-2 and played four innings in a 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros on Thursday. He'd been limited since the start of spring training by lower back soreness but said he probably could have played four days earlier.

"I felt great," Walker said. "Got a couple of balls hit to me, so I was able to move. And I hit the ball all right my first time up. I felt comfortable, felt all right."

Walker, 38, said playing was a lot easier on him than the workouts he's been going through trying to get ready. He went to bed early Wednesday night believing he was in for another grueling session.

"I didn't know I was playing today until I got to the park, so I thought it was going to be more of a workout day for me, which is harder than actually playing," Walker said.

Manager Tony La Russa is giving Walker the day off Friday but said he'd likely play Saturday and Sunday.

Chris Carpenter, who'll start the season opener at Houston on April 5, pitched four strong innings in his second outing of the spring. He allowed one run on three hits with three strikeouts, following up three scoreless innings in his first outing.

"The first couple of innings I was up, and the last two innings I was down," Carpenter said. "As the game went on, I got progressively better."

Carpenter outpitched Brandon Backe, who won Game 5 of the NLCS over the Cardinals last fall. Carpenter, who won a career-best 15 games, didn't pitch in the postseason after sustaining nerve damage to his biceps last September.

Backe had difficulty with his control, who allowed two hits in three innings but walked five and gave up three runs in three innings.

Reggie Sanders hit a two-run single after consecutive walks to Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds to start the fourth, putting the Cardinals ahead 3-1. Yadier Molina had a sacrifice fly in the second and Skip Schumaker had a sacrifice fly in the eighth for St. Louis, which totaled three hits against four Houston pitchers.

Ezequiel Astacio, the second Astros pitcher, worked three hitless innings.

Chris Burke tripled and scored on Mike Lamb's RBI single in the first and Carlos Rivera had a run-scoring groundout in the ninth for the Astros.

Notes: Former President George Bush, a big Astros fan, was among those attending the game. Bush watched several innings from a luxury suite but left before the game ended. ... Cardinals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek had six straight hits after doubling in the second before the streak ended with a groundout to end the third. Grudzielanek said he had an 0-2 count on four of his hits. "You don't want to see that now," Grudzielanek said. "Bad luck. I want to save them." ... The Cardinals have won five straight since losing to the Mets to start the spring schedule.

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