Thursday, June 24, 2004 - At Busch Stadium II (Chris Carpenter - Starting Pitcher) - Opposition: Chicago Cubs (Matt Clement - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 48,042
Heading into the rubber game of a three-game series with rival Chicago, the NL Central division-leading Cardinals were just two games ahead of the second-place Cubs. As far as the Cardinals were concerned, Chris Carpenter would always be the guy they wanted on the mound in a big game - and this game was certainly "big enough". A loss would shrink their lead to a single game - a scenario Carpenter simply refused to let happen.
Clement was pitching well, himself, until a fourth-inning error by shortstop Rey Ordonez helped facilitate a four-run Redbird rally.
The inning started with Albert Pujols reaching base after being hit by a pitch. Scott Rolen - arguably the team's most productive player in 2004 - then advanced Pujols to second with a base hit to right field. Jim Edmonds then moved both runners up to second and third with a ground out to first base - unassisted.
With first base open, the ever-dangerous Ray Lankford was intentionally walked, bringing up the not-so-dangerous Hector Luna to bat. Luna's ground ball to shortstop Rey Ordonez - who won three straight Gold Gloves with the New York Mets from '97 to '99 - was booted. Everybody was safe, as Pujols scored the first run of the night. It would be the only earned run allowed by Clement.
The next batter - Mike Matheny - hit a sacrifice fly to center, which would have been the third out of the inning - instead, it scored Rolen with the second run. Next up, Chris Carpenter helped his own cause with a line drive single to left field, scoring Lankford with another unearned run. Finally, Tony Womack closed out the scoring with a single to center - bringing in Luna with still another unearned run.
Earned or unearned, the 4-0 lead was the reality the Cubs were faced with at this point - and at this point, reality wasn't being kind to Chicago.
Strangely enough, the Cubs had loaded the bases with one out in the top of the fourth - threatening to have a big inning, with Rey Ordonez the next batter. Ordonez may have had worse nights than this - but probably not much worse. His ground ball right back to Carpenter was turned into a pitcher to catcher to first - inning-ending double play - keeping the game scoreless - but not for long.
Carpenter worked the first eight scoreless innings - Isringhausen finished it off - not a save situation with that four run cushion - but Ryne Sandberg had long since retired, so no need to worry about a game-tying grand slam tonight.