Cardinals cap first half with victory

Cardinals cap first half with victory

SAN FRANCISCO -- In edging San Francisco, 4-3, on Sunday, St. Louis proved the combination of being good and being lucky is hard to beat.

The good is obvious enough just by looking at the Cardinals' record, which at 56-32 is setting the standard for the National League, or by looking at the team's 5-2 record on this final seven-game road trip heading into the All-Star break.

"We're definitely pleased," outfielder Reggie Sanders said in assessing the way the first half of the season has transpired. "One of the things that we as a team try not to do is worry about the standings and just continue to play good baseball the way we're doing."

The luck showed up in a few spots Sunday.

St. Louis is lucky Scott Rolen's wounded left shoulder, sore enough to knock him out of the All-Star Game, was healthy enough to help him turn in a couple of stellar defensive plays for starter Jeff Suppan (9-7).

"That really was the key to the game today," said manager Tony La Russa. "Our defense was inspired."

The Cardinals also are lucky San Francisco's right fielder Sunday was Alex Sanchez, whose misadventures with the glove in the second inning directly contributed to all four St. Louis runs.

Reggie Sanders led off that inning against Noah Lowry (5-9) with a high fly ball to shallow right. Sanchez initially broke back on the ball, then came charging in only to have the ball clang off his glove and bound away.

Sanders wound up on third with what the official scorer called a triple, even though the ball never got more than 120 feet from home plate.

Undoubtedly, it was the shortest triple of Sanders' career.

"That's a good way of putting it," Sanders said. "When [second baseman Ray] Durham didn't go out, I figured I had a chance."

Sanders is in his 14th Major League season, including 2002 with the Giants, and has plenty of experience with the weird weather in San Francisco.

Sunday evening's game was played under clear, slightly breezy skies, but Sanders said, "For whatever reason, the wind was a little bit worse than I ever remember, even when I played here.

"It does make for a Candlestick day."

Maybe that's why Sanchez misplayed another attempt just three batters later.

Sanders had already scored on a Rolen groundout to tie the game, and Larry Walker had singled to right when Mark Grudzielanek created another adventure for Sanchez with a high pop toward the line.

This time, Sanchez overran the ball in an unsuccessful attempt to short-hop it, and Grudzielanek was on second with a single and an error.

Einer Diaz then doubled in both Walker and Grudzialanek and scored to make it 4-1 when Suppan singled up the middle.

After giving up that one Giants run in the first inning, Suppan kept putting the ball near the plate and letting his teammates do the work.

"These guys play offense, they play defense," said Suppan, who gave up three runs while scattering nine hits over 6 1/3 innings. He walked one batter and fanned another.

"Rolen, Albert [Pujols], I'd have to name my whole team," Suppan added. "Tonight, Rolen was making some incredible plays, saving innings."

Rolen robbed Pedro Feliz of one hit with a highlight-reel stop ranging to his right in the second inning, and Pujols in the next inning knocked down an Omar Vizquel shot to start a 3-6-3 double play.

The outfield chipped in, as well. In the first inning, with none out, Sanchez on third and Vizquel on second, Lance Niekro singled up the middle.

Sanchez scored easily, but Jim Edmonds threw a perfect strike to Diaz to put out Vizquel at the plate.

The Giants trimmed their deficit to one with a pair of runs in the seventh. Pinch-hitter Deivi Cruz drove in one with a groundout and Sanchez the other with a two-out single up the middle before former Giant Julian Tavarez shut the door by fanning Niekro.

Jason Isringhausen then got himself into and out of trouble in the ninth, getting Niekro to look at strike three with runners on the corners to end the game.

It wasn't all that different from Friday night's 3-1 win over the Giants, when Durham, representing the tying run, watched Isringhausen's final strike of the game whistle past.

"The two games we won got very scary in the eighth and ninth," La Russa said. "But the bullpen all year long has been making clutch pitches in those situations."

Tony Kuttner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.