A Tale of Two Pitchers

added 4/15/2001 by Susan Evans and Darrell Pittman

Two very different pitchers showed up for Saturday’s Cardinals-Astros game. One started strong but got shaky. The other started shaky, but then settled in and got strong. We’ll describe the game itself later.

Having driven up from Houston to watch the Astros take on the Cardinals for Friday night’s game, a well-played 4-2 victory for the ‘Stros, we crossed the street from Busch Stadium to return to our hotel, the Marriott. If you’re going to visit St. Louis to take in a ballgame, that is the place to stay. The rates are reasonable, the service good, the location excellent, and you get a free breakfast to boot.

While we were in the hotel restaurant having our breakfast, festooned in our best Astros regalia, a lady walked up to our table and said in a good-natured way, “You really have a lot of nerve wearing that here,” with a smile on her face. Then her husband walked up behind her, saying “Don’t mind her. I’m a Cubs fan and I have to put up with that all the time.” It was a nice welcome to St. Louis.

After our meal, we left our bags with the concierge, checked out of our room, then crossed the street again and returned to Busch Stadium at 11 A.M., two hours before game time. This day was designated as “Kids’ Opening Day 2001” by the Cards. On the plaza outside the ballpark, a disc jockey from KMOX was organizing a party for the kids that featured disco music like “YMCA,” during which the kids could dance with the Cardinals mascot, “Redbird,” and bounce around in a moonwalk.

We went to field level and watched both teams take batting practice. We both noticed how much Chris Truby has bulked up since last season; he looked like a string bean then. His upper arms are very thick now. Also, Daryle Ward has trimmed down quite a bit. Both of those kids are going to go far. It was interesting to watch Billy Wagner and Jay Powell man shortstop during B.P.; they weren’t bad at all.

While we were at the rail at the third base line hoping for autographs, we met a young man named Joel from Detroit who was wearing an Astros cap and said he had come down to see the game. He mentioned that he had been at the Astros “FanFest” at Enron Field in February. He said that the main reason he was there was because he was a big fan of Brad Ausmus, and that the folks in Detroit miss Brad a lot. He said he hoped they could get him back someday, but Darrell told him that he really couldn’t foresee the Astros repeating the mistake of trading Ausmus away. Just about that time, Ausmus walked down the third base line toward the batting cage. Joel called out “Happy Birthday, Brad!,” and Ausmus turned around and waved. Darrell looked on the back of his only Ausmus trading card and sure enough, his birthday is 4/14/69. Nice homework, Joel!

We did manage to get one autograph. Richard Hidalgo signed a trading card we have, one that just happened to have been taken last year in, of all places, Busch Stadium! There’s an interesting twist to what happened to that card after it was autographed, but we’ll tell you about that later.

Just before game time, we went up to our seats in the upper deck… high up but right behind home plate... great seats.

The Astros debuted in a new road jersey we haven’t seen before. It was bright red with a gold “Houston” blazoned across the chest in their distinctive script.

Some of the kids who had been out on the plaza before the game were selected to take the field with each Cardinal player, after which the National Anthem was played. What great memories for those kids, no doubt memories that will last a lifetime. We though it was a nice touch. The Cardinals organization is a class act.

Rick Ankiel started for St. Louis, and in the first inning, he looked like he was on fire. He was “effectively wild.” Though walking Craig Biggio and allowing a double to Jeff Bagwell, he braced that by striking out Julio Lugo, Richard Hidalgo, and Lance Berkman to retire the side, yielding no runs. With good velocity, and that little bit of wildness, he was very intimidating. Most likely, the Astros hitters were in mortal fear of their lives. I know I would be in their place.

Scott Elarton got off to a very shaky start in the first, giving up a lead-off single to Fernando Vina, He was fortunate in that Placido Polanco grounded into a double play, because Elarton then gave up back-to-back solo homers to Jim Edmonds and Bobby Bonilla, both of whom went yard to almost exactly the same spot in the right field bleachers. It could easily have been 4-0 instead of 2-0 at that point.

In the third, Ankiel walked Chris Truby, Brad Ausmus, and Glen Barker to load the bases. Then he plunked Elarton to force home a run (and who wound up being plunked twice). Truby got two homers in successive at-bats in the third and fifth innings.

After his gaffe in the first, Elarton found his feet and was very solid. He gave up a walk in the second, but then settled in to get grounders and strikeouts for the next five innings. St. Louis did not have another base runner until the eighth inning, when Elarton gave up a solo homer to Albert Pujols.

At that point, Elarton took himself out of the game. It was not announced at the time, but he had suffered a mild hamstring pull We hope he will be okay, but it seems to answer the question about what will happen to the pitching staff once Shane Reynolds returns from the DL.

Wayne Franklin came in to replace Elarton. He gave up a homer to Mike Matheney, but then he settled in as well. In what has to have been the greatest challenge to date in his short major league career, Wayne had to face “Big Mac” Mark McGwire, who had thus far sat out the game, but was sent in by manager Tony LaRussa to pinch-hit for pitcher Mike Timlin. With nobody on base, in one of the most bizarre infield shifts that we have ever seen, Biggio moved to the third base side of second base, while Bagwell moved halfway between first and second. The play was anticipated perfectly, as McGwire hit a weak grounder to shortstop Julio Lugo, who threw first to get the easy out.

Billy Wagner came in to close the game in the ninth inning. Once again, his stuff was reaching 97 mph. He got a fly-out, ground-out, and strike-out to end the game with the Astros ahead 7-4, earning his fourth save. “Billy the Kid” is back!

There were three heroes in this game. First, Elly found his feet and went on to pitch a fine game after an iffy start. Second, “The Wrangler” Larry Dierker had the faith to stick with Elly when it looked bad in the first. Third, Chris Truby, who had another outstanding game at the plate.

In all, it was a beautiful day to take in a ballgame. You couldn’t ask for better.

Now we’ll tell you about the baseball cards. Before the game, Darrell had gotten Richard Hidalgo’s autograph on one of our trading cards. At the end of batting practice, when we left ground level to go up to our seats in the upper deck, Darrell left the notebook with his other trading cards sitting there on a seat. He thought I had it, and vice-versa. Just as we’re about to leave the ballpark, we do a property-check, and sure enough, the cards are missing. We go back down to field level, no notebook. We go all the way back up to where we were sitting, no notebook. On a longshot, we decide to check the lost-and-found, and sure enough, someone had found it, turned it in, and we got it back.

We’re both very appreciative of the fans in St. Louis… how friendly and honest they are. Darrell intends to write a thank-you letter to their newspaper.

After driving all night (and ducking some really bad weather in Oklahoma about 2 am) we’re back home now in Spring Branch, trying to catch a nap before today's Astros game on TV.

Go ‘Stros!!!

Susan Evans and Darrell Pittman

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