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Brewers fall to Cardinals

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McClatchy-Tribune
April 17, 2008
— With a lineup sputtering in nearly every spot, Milwaukee Brewers manager Ned Yost has implored his hitters to focus on solid at-bats.

First thing this today, Yost should queue up the first-inning at-bat of St. Louis centerfielder Rick Ankiel from Wednesday night.


In a display of fouling off pitches that would have made Luke Appling proud, Ankiel worked Brewers starter Carlos Villanueva for 17 pitches before finally drawing a walk. The at-bat had no outcome on the scoring but guaranteed it would be a short night for Villanueva.


“Every hitter applauds an at-bat like that,” said Brewers infielder Craig Counsell.


The Brewers finally made some noise in the ninth inning, but it was too little, too late as the Cardinals prevailed for the second consecutive evening, 5-4, at Busch Stadium.


Right now, the Cardinals are doing just about everything better than the Brewers, who have lost five of their last seven games.


“They’re playing good,” said Counsell, whose RBI double off the bench in the ninth made it a one-run game and forced the Cards to sweat a bit. “You know they’re going to be good. It doesn’t even matter who’s on the team.”


Until the Brewers made closer Jason Isringhausen work for his sixth save, it was another quiet night for the offense. St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright held the visitors in check for 72/3 innings, allowing five hits and one earned run.


Milwaukee is a team built around offense, which makes their current slide all the more puzzling. The players keep reminding themselves they’re going to hit, as if repeating that mantra often enough eventually will make it happen.


“They’re going to be fine,” said Yost. “They’ll find a way to swing their way out of it. I just like our approaches. They’re aggressive. They stayed after it.”


When your hitters are scuffling, the starting pitcher needs to provide a lift, and Villanueva was unable to do so. It took a span of only three hitters in the bottom of the first inning for St. Louis to bolt to a 2-0 lead.


Skip Schumaker singled and swiped second, and Chris Duncan drew a walk. As he always does, Albert Pujols got the green light on a 3-0 count and laced a double into the leftfield corner, scoring both runners.


“It was one of those nights where I didn’t feel like I had much on the ball,” said Villanueva, who fell to 1-2 with a 6.19 earned run average. “You’ve still got to battle. I battled all I could.”


So did Ankiel, the next batter. The pitcher-turned-outfielder fouled off 11 pitches during his marathon at-bat, including seven with a full count. With the crowd of 40,712 standing and cheering his effort, Ankiel finally drew a walk from the exhausted Villanueva.


St. Louis would score no more runs that inning, but Villanueva had thrown 45 pitches and wouldn’t make it out of the fifth.


“That at-bat definitely took a lot out of me,” admitted Villanueva, who was jolted again in the second when Wainwright hit his first pitch for his third career homer.


“I tried to take a little break between pitches. You just hope he’ll put the ball in play. He won that battle.”


While Villanueva kept waiting for Ankiel to put a ball in play, the hitter kept wondering how long he could stay alive.


“I kept thinking, ‘He’s got to throw a ball,’ “ said Ankiel. “You just keep grinding and grinding. It’s fun to come out on the good end of that.”


Schumaker touched off a two-run rally in the fifth with a leadoff homer off Villanueva, and the Cards took a 5-1 lead. St. Louis led by three when the Brewers made things interesting in the ninth.


With one down, Corey Hart bunted for a hit. J.J. Hardy followed with an opposite-field double to right to score Hart, and Counsell pounded his two-bagger into the same corner.


When Jason Kendall followed with a liner headed for right field, it appeared for an instant the Brewers would tie the game, but Pujols—playing far off the bag—reached up and speared it for a huge out. Rickie Weeks tapped back to Isringhausen, and the Cards were home free.


“(Kendall) hit a line drive; it just went to the wrong spot,” said Counsell.


“We’re a good offensive team. You just try to stay confident and believe it’s going to happen, because it is going to happen. This team will score runs. I don’t think anybody doubts that.”



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