Norris Deals While Garcia Labors and the Astros Top the Cardinals

HOUSTON - JUNE 08: Lance Berkman #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a home run in the seventh inning as catcher J.R. Towles looks on for the first hit of the game against pitcher bud Norris of the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on June 8, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)


In last night's game, the second of the three-game series at Minute Maid Mallpark, an unstoppable force met an immovable object. Kind of. After just barely meeting the criteria for a quality start in his 2011 premier against the Cardinals, Bud Norris, a pitcher once bizarroly considered Kryptonite to the non-super Cardinals lineup of seasons past, was rudely welcomed to Busch Stadium in his second start of this season against St. Louis by the run-producing juggernaut that has established itself as the big-leagues' best through two months of play. Norris lasted only five innings, allowing five runs on seven hits and three walks. Last night, with a St. Louis lineup missing Matt HollidayDavid Freese, and Allen Craig, Norris was able rekindle his effectiveness against the Redbirds into a raging wildfire (in the outfield?), taking a no-hitter into the seventh.

The story of last night's game is a familiar one for Cardinal fans and the character undoubtedly most-used as the villain in campfire horror stories throughout the Cardinal territory again bewildered our hometown heroes. But the old line that Bud Norris is terrible against every other club but the Cardinals does not hold much water for the 2011 season. Last night marked Norris's thirteenth start of the season. The righty has totaled 81 IP in those starts, with a strikeout rate of 9.0 and a 3.56 BB/9 to feed his 3.67 ERa, 3.76 FIP, and 3.44 xFIP. Norris is putting together a fine season.

Jaime Garcia, the young Cardinal lefty, started 2011 in a way that had some asking, "Wagonmaker who?" Garcia sported an ERA of just 1.93 through his first ten starts. Then, he toed the rubber in Colorado on May 28. Perhaps it was the altitude, the humidor, the Rockies, bad luck, or lunch not sitting well with him. Whatever the cause, the effect was a brutal thrashing at the bats of the Rockies and a line of:  12 R, 11 ER, 11 H, 4 BB. The sophomore southpaw's ERA lept from 1.98 to 3.23 3.1 IP that day and the Cards went down 15-4. In the following start (which was also the only one for Garcia between the Rocky Mountain Meltdown and last night's contest), against a club equally as lowly as the Astros, Garcia spun a gem:  8 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 H, 8 SO, and just 1 BB.

Despite his outstanding effort against Chicago, Garcia never seemed comfortable last night. Early on, he was missing his spots and there were some borderline pitches that home plate umpire, James Hoye, saw fit to call "balls." Hoye was poor behind the plate--Mike Shannon even labeled him "useless" during a radio broadcast that came to resemble a radio talk show railing against Hoye's re-election as Home Plate Umpire--but Garcia was never able to harness his arsenal of pitches. The pitch-count total, while slowly tallied, topped out at 98 at the fifth inning's conclusion, when Tony La Russa wisely gave the young southpaw the hook. For the game, Garcia's line was not terrible at 5 IP, 3 R, 2 BB, 1 SO, but it was an outing that represents Garcia at his worst. Inefficient, poor command, and an early exit.

The St. Louis bullpen likely did not appreciate Garcia turning in his second-shortest outing of the season last night, about twenty-four hours after the bullpen had to handle three and one-third innings in a bizarre contest that befitted the bizarre confines of the Houston ballpark. Garcia's early exit meant that Cardinal relievers had to shoulder four innings. Ryan Franklin deserves credit for keeping the Cards within striking distance even if the offense never struck. His one and one-third innings without a run allowed lowered his ERA to 7.06, slightly above his 5.20 FIP and 4.33 xFIP. Jason Motte was the only reliever to make back-to-back appearances on Tuesday and Wednesday, so the Astros touching him for a pair of hits and a run was not terribly surprising. With the rookie Lance Lynn making his second big-league start tonight--and his first big-league start on full rest--should La Russa need to go to 'pen, the manager will have his pick of Miguel Batista, Trever Miller, Eduardo Sanchez, and Fernando Salas all of whom have one day's rest.

There was not much of a silver lining on the frustrating dark cloud that was last night's loss at the Minute Made Mallpark. In fact, I could only find a few glimmers of polished sheen. Franklin's effort, highlighted above, deserves praise. There was Lance Berkman's second home run in as many games after the cortisone injection to his nagging wrist. Typically, wrist injuries sap power. The rebound in Puma power after the injection is heartening. The second bright spot was Colby Rasmus's basket catch near where the base of the Crosley Field-inspired Tal's Hill meets the Roman-inspired railroad bridge. Despite, or perhaps because of, the absurd setting, it was a rather enjoyable catch. Lastly, Ryan Theriot hit streak came to an end. If it had to come to an end, I'm glad it did without much consequence. I would never cheer against a Cardinal, but I also love my history and I can think of nothing more appropriate than Rogers Hornsby having the longest hit streak in franchise history, at 33 games, with Stan Musial and Albert Pujols tied for second, each with a 30-game streak.

At 7:05 CT, Lance Lynn squares off against J.A. Happ in the rubber match of the series.

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