While pitching eight shutout innings in Game 2 of the 2006 World Series at this same ballpark, Rogers threw just 99 pitches. Over 5 1/3 innings on Tuesday, he threw 98. That, more than any pine-tar-related theory, explains what changed from October of '06 to June of '08. The Cardinals gave Rogers enough rope, and he used it.
"Our plan was just to see him up," said Brian Barton, who homered, doubled and drove in two runs in three at-bats. "We know that he's very successful if he has us chasing balls down and away and hitting his pitches. So we just wanted to get our pitches, get him up in the zone and take good swings."
For five innings, the Cardinals chipped at Rogers, making him labor, picking up a run here and a run there. They put a man on base in every inning Rogers pitched and, in fact, helped him out of each of the first two innings with baserunning miscues.
By the time Barton's homer turned the fifth into a quagmire for Rogers, the tide was turning. And in the sixth, the Redbirds seized control. Yadier Molina led off with a double, Adam Kennedy poked an RBI single and Brendan Ryan singled to chase Rogers. Rookie reliever Freddy Dolsi permitted a two-run single to Skip Schumaker, and St. Louis was in control.
"He's got really good stuff down in the zone," said rookie Nick Stavinoha, who singled for his first big league RBI against Dolsi in the seventh. "He really hits the bottom part of the zone really well. I think our plan was to try to get a pitch up, something we could handle, and try to hit it hard."
The offense against Rogers came in all shapes and sizes, and from all corners. Barton and Miles both contributed from the leadoff spot, and Ryan had three hits and two RBIs out of the No. 9 hole. Molina collected three hits and Aaron Miles was on base twice with a double and a walk.
It was plenty of support for Braden Looper, who ran into some trouble, but still pitched well enough for his ninth win of the season. Looper was charged with four runs over six-plus innings, a line that probably does him a disservice given the quality of the opposing lineup.
Looper committed some miscues that he had been consistently avoiding of late. He walked his first batter in four starts, and surrendered his first home run in five games. And his second, and his third -- and therein lay the trouble. All four Detroit runs came on the three long balls. A Marcus Thames double followed by Gary Sheffield's two-run jack in the seventh chased Looper.
"That seventh inning, I just was not loose all the way or something," Looper said. "I just left a couple balls up. It was the second long [offensive] inning in a row, so I don't know if that maybe had something to do with it, but those were really the only two bad pitches that I made."
One blast, however, was controversial. Miguel Cabrera's shot in the fourth inning appeared on replay to have hit off the top of the right-field wall, which by rule should not be a homer. Cabrera drilled a 2-2 pitch from Looper to right field, and the ball bounced off the top of the wall, out of Ryan Ludwick's reach.
Second-base umpire Paul Schrieber called a home run, but video replays clearly showed that the ball hit the yellow stripe at the top of the wall, which according to the ground rules is in play. The next batter, Marcus Thames, struck out to end the inning, which would have stranded Cabrera at second if the ball had not been ruled a home run.
Not that it really mattered, as the St. Louis lineup continued its revival. Following a weeklong dry spell in the immediate aftermath of Albert Pujols' calf injury, the Cards have been stroking the ball with aplomb on the road trip. They've scored 25 runs in four games, going 3-1 against a pair of AL contenders.
"It just flows from competing," manager Tony La Russa said. "Everybody went out there wanting to compete and have a tough at-bat, and sometimes you break through. Even if you make an out, you make the guy work. It's just part of competing. There wasn't anything special for this starting pitcher. It's how we try to do it every day."