Rookie steps in, lifts Cardinals in debut

Sunday, May 5, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- A 28-year-old rookie gave the pitching-strapped St. Louis Cardinals a huge lift.

Jason Simontacchi, signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason, worked seven strong innings in his major league debut in a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.

"He was just relentless," manager Tony La Russa said. "He didn't have a lot to work with so the pressure was always on him. The composure was outstanding and the quality of his pitches was outstanding."

Kerry Robinson, Tino Martinez and Placido Polanco drove in a run apiece for the Cardinals, who have won only six of their last 19 but snapped the Braves' three-game winning streak. The Cardinals have six pitchers, five of them starters, on the disabled list.

The Cardinals purchased the contract of Simontacchi, 28, from Triple-A Memphis to fill the latest vacancy in the rotation and optioned another rookie, Josh Pearce, to Memphis. Simontacchi, the 11th starting pitcher the Cardinals have used in 30 games this season, gave up two runs and five hits with four strikeouts and one walk.

"I started getting the jitters when I came out of the game," Simontacchi said. "I wasn't nervous, I was more excited to get the job done."

Jason Isringhausen worked the ninth for his fifth save in six chances, striking out pinch-hitter Darren Bragg with runners on first and second to end it.

Simontacchi, 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA at Memphis, held the Braves without a hit until Marcus Giles hit his fifth home run with one out in the fourth to cut the gap to 2-1. It didn't bother him a bit.

"You tip your hat," Simontacchi said. "I left it up over the plate a little too much and he took me deep. I just kind of relaxed and went from there."

The Braves were impressed.

"We didn't hit him at all," manager Bobby Cox said. "He put the ball where we couldn't do much with it. He's not an ordinary pitcher. He didn't look like a Triple-A pitcher to me."

Fernando Vina had three hits and scored a run for the Cardinals, who were held to three hits in a 2-1, 11-inning loss to Atlanta on Friday night.

St. Louis took the lead in the third on an RBI double by Robinson that scored Vina, who tripled after fouling off six straight 2-1 pitches. Tino Martinez added a sacrifice fly off Albie Lopez (1-3).

Edgar Renteria doubled to start the fourth and scored on Polanco's one-out single through a drawn-in infield to make it 3-1.

The Braves cut the gap to a run in the seventh on Javy Lopez's two-out RBI double.

Albie Lopez have up three runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings. Lopez is 0-5 in nine starts since last Aug. 22.

"I'm going to get a win sometime as a starter," Lopez said. "I'll just keep going out there. I know it's going to happen."

Noteworthy

  • Last year, the Cardinals used nine starters all year.

  • To make room for Simontacchi on the 40-man roster, the Cardinals transferred pitcher Andy Benes from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL. Benes, who has an arthritic right knee, is not expected to pitch again for the Cardinals.

  • Atlanta's Keith Lockhart, who grounded out as a pinch hitter to end the seventh, is 1-for-20 in that role.

  • Robinson made a running one-hand grab of Andruw Jones' drive to the warning track down the left-field line to start the seventh.

  • The Braves, coming off extra-inning victories Thursday and Friday, missed a chance to start May 4-0 for the first time since 1970.

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