Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 3, 2002 - Opportunistic Cardinals Knock Off Padres

Wednesday, July 3, 2002 - At Busch Stadium III (Jason Simontacchi - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  San Diego Padres (Brian Lawrence - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  41,533

The Cardinals were able to maximize their limited offensive output - scoring four runs on just five hits - as rookie Jason Simontacchi continued his brief run of fine pitching to thwart the San Diego Padres, by a score of 4-1.

The Padres also had just five hits - but squandered an early opportunity for a big inning - leaving the door open for the opportunistic Cardinals to finish them off.

San Diego's frustration began when the second-inning started with a bang - a lead-off home run by former Cardinal Ron Gant.  The next batter - another former Cardinal - Ray Lankford drew a base on balls, which was immediately followed by a Devi Cruz double down the left-field line, putting runners on second and third.

However, what appeared to be a big inning for the Padres quickly evaporated when Wiki Gonzalez hit a line drive to Eli Marrero in right field, who threw a strike to catcher Mike Matheny to nail Lankford - tagging up - tying to score from third.  The Padres offense was never heard from again.

Meanwhile, Brian Lawrence appeared to be in complete control of this game - at least until the fourth-inning.  After striking out both Polanco and Edmonds to start the inning, Lawrence hit the next batter - Albert Pujols - with a pitch.  Tino Martinez then launched one deep to right center field for a two-run home run which suddenly put the Cardinals on top - 2-1.

Meanwhile, Simontacchi's night finally ended after 6.2 innings pitched.  He had allowed five hits, walked two and struck out three.  Three St Louis relievers - Kline, Veres and Isringhausen - pitched no-hit ball over the final 2.1 innings.

Padres starter Lawrence only allowed three hits in his six innings of work - walking one and striking out five - but it was the hit batsman and the long ball-combination that spoiled his night.  The Padres bullpen did him no favors, either.  Reliever Jeremy Fikac allowed a Tino Martinez lead-off double in the seventh-inning, which came around to score after a bunt and a ground out.

Pitching the eighth-inning for San Diego - Trevor Hoffman - yielded a lead-off triple to speedster Kerry Robinson, who one out later, decided to take matters into his own hands and steal home.

Robinson - whose brief major league career ended with 36 stolen bases - had joined the growing list of Cardinals who had stolen home in their careers - a list that doesn't include Lou Brock, who stole 938 bases in his 19-year major league career.  Go figure.

Although Jason Simontacchi's major league career was quite brief, for the time being, he looked like a future star. His record had improved to 7-1 with an ERA under 3.  By season's end, he would finish at 11-5 with an ERA of 4.02.  Even though his sophomore season would reflect a further decline, he also happened to be the starting - and winning - pitcher on July 3, 2003.

Exactly one year after this stellar performance against the Padres, Jason was hit hard in his start against the San Francisco Giants - allowing five runs in just six innings pitched.  But he was the beneficiary of an eight-run Cardinal second-inning outburst, featuring home runs by Edgar Renteria, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen.

His record had improved to 6-4, en route to an overall 9-5 mark.  However, with an ERA of 5.28, it was apparent he was more lucky than good.  There would be no starting assignments for Simontacchi in 2004 - he only worked a total of 15.1 innings with an ERA over 5 - and just like that, he was gone - at least from St Louis.

In 2007 - his final major league season - he was given another shot with the struggling Washington Nationals - somehow going 6-7 as a starter - with a 6.37 ERA.  Time for a career change.

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