Chris Duncan, considered in some quarters a slow-footed, all-or-nothing slugger who needs a platoon partner, betrayed all three of those pieces of conventional wisdom on Wednesday night in the Cardinals' 4-2 win over the Pirates.
The left fielder drilled a two-run triple to right field against Zach Duke for the decisive hit in a three-run fourth inning. It was only the fifth triple of his Major League career, and his first against a left-handed pitcher.
"I hit it really good," Duncan said. "I didn't crush it, but I hit it on the good part of the bat, and I thought it might have a chance."
Duncan finished the night hitting .281 and slugging .500 against left-handed pitchers. That's a drastic improvement for a player who entered the season with a lifetime .196 batting average against same-side pitchers. And it's been critical, because he's had to face them quite a bit. With only four outfielders on the roster, and three of them lefties, manager Tony La Russa hasn't been able to do much platooning with his flycatchers.
Not that he'd want to. La Russa always believed Duncan could and would hit lefties.
"It's a matter of him being healthy like he was when he first got here," La Russa said. "When he first got here, he used to hit home runs against left-handers. He hasn't been healthy for two years. What he did in '06 and the first half of '07, that's what he's capable of doing."
Even then, though, Duncan didn't do this. In his breakout 2006 season, he went 8-for-47 (.170) against left-handers with three extra-base hits. He already has more hits and as many extra-base hits in 2009.
"I think I just have more confidence from playing against them more and having some success early on," he said. "I think it's given me more confidence. I don't, as much, think to myself, 'Oh no, it's a lefty.' It's just, hey, I'm hitting, I'm taking an at-bat. In my mind it's irrelevant whether he's left-handed or right-handed. Whereas, before, I might really, go, 'Oh no, it's a left-hander.'"
Albert Pujols had four hits in four at-bats, scored twice and cranked his 11th home run for St. Louis, which ended a three-game losing streak. Pujols' single started the fourth-inning rally. Ryan Ludwick followed with a walk, and Duncan lined a triple into right field to break a 1-1 tie. Khalil Greene's sacrifice fly made it 4-1 for the home team.
For Duncan, the triple marked a continuation of a fine season overall, not just against left-handers. He's hitting for average (.284), getting on base (.386) and driving in runs (16 in 26 games) despite a relatively low home run total by his standards (three).
"I feel really good," he said. "I feel like I'm taking good at-bats with guys in scoring position. I wish I was hitting the ball out of the park more, but that's not something that I can force. When I get guys on base, I'm just trying to really bear down and take good at-bats, and I feel I've done a good job."
The win made it a glass-half-full night for rookie starter Mitchell Boggs, who deserved credit for pitching out of trouble and blame for getting himself into it.
Boggs issued five walks in 4 1/3 innings, and fewer than half of his 85 pitches were strikes. He struck out four and held Pittsburgh to two runs, but it's telling that La Russa went to the bullpen in the fifth inning with Boggs two outs away from being credited with the win.
When Nate McLouth doubled to cut the St. Louis lead to two runs in the fifth, Boggs was lifted. The Cardinals' bullpen took it from there, with five relievers combining to get the last 14 outs. Ryan Franklin finished it off for his eighth save in as many chances.
St. Louis remained two games ahead of second-place Milwaukee in the National League Central. The Cardinals' 18-10 record is second best in the NL.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less