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St. Louis Gets the Jump on Maddux

NL: Cardinals score six runs in first, then survive record five wild pitches in third by Ankiel to win, 7-5.

October 04, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The St. Louis Cardinals survived Manager Tony La Russa's decision to start rookie Rick Ankiel in Tuesday's National League division-series opener, but only because Greg Maddux wasn't at his best and the Atlanta Brave defense was far worse.

In a game so ugly it would not have been a surprise if the landmark St. Louis arch had collapsed in shame, the Cardinals won, 7-5, by scoring six runs off Maddux and the generous Braves in the first inning and then receiving superb relief after Ankiel embarked on a record siege of wildness that enabled catcher Carlos Hernandez to establish familiarity with fans behind the plate.

A Busch Stadium crowd of 53,278 saw Ankiel, 11-7 this season, 3-0 in September and unbeaten in his last 10 starts, help rally the Braves during a four-run third inning in which he walked four and made five wild pitches--his adrenaline, perhaps, as high as many of the fastballs and changeups that Hernandez--in a severe test of his two herniated disks--was unable to reach.

The five wild pitches not only set a division-series record for an inning and game, they set a record for an entire division series and career, and were the most in an inning of championship play.

In fact, the regular-season record for wild pitches in an inning is four, set by Walter Johnson in 1914 and tied by Phil Niekro in 1979.

"At least," Ankiel said later, "I set a record."

No one was exactly congratulating him on it, but La Russa said he would bring his 21-year-old left-hander back in Game 4, if it is needed.

"I just think he was a little pumped up today and got away from the things he does best," La Russa said. "He's still a young pitcher learning how to keep his delivery and concentration together, but I've seen veteran pitchers--in fact, we saw one today [Maddux]--face the same challenge, so our young man is way ahead of the game as far as having things solved."

Ankiel and Hernandez, replacing the injured Mike Matheny, are also still learning to work together and that too may have been a factor. Ankiel made 66 pitches in 2 2/3 innings, giving up four hits and walking six.

He was chosen to start ahead of 20-game winner Darryl Kile because Kile would be more experienced at working on three days' rest if a Game 5 is needed. La Russa also felt Ankiel would face less pressure in Game 1 than waiting for Thursday's Game 2 while coping with a lot of media questions.

Instead, there was Ankiel coping with a lot of media questions after his historical--and hysterical?--performance, for which he didn't have an answer except that he was definitely rushing his delivery and it may have been nerves.

"I probably was a little anxious, trying to do too much," he said. "You tell yourself it's just another game, throw strikes, let them get themselves out, but it didn't work out and I have to put it behind me. It's almost like my first big league start. I've got my feet wet in the postseason now and I'll be ready to jump back in whenever they give me the ball."

Ex-Angel Mike James took the ball after Ankiel, then Mike Timlin, Britt Reames and Dave Veres. The Braves, down only 6-4 after the third, could get no closer, ultimately stranding 11 runners, including two in the ninth when Veres struck out Reggie Sanders and Keith Lockhart flied out.

The six-run first was decisive, and Manager Bobby Cox said, "We probably played as bad as you could play in that inning, then should have won the game. We had those kinds of chances all day."

Maddux gave up nine hits and all seven runs. Five were earned, but that six-run first could have been restricted to one--maybe none--if . . .

1) A leadoff grounder by Fernando Vina had reached the glove of diving first baseman Andres Galarraga instead of caroming off the bag for a single, 2) Sanders and Andruw Jones had communicated on a slicing fly from Jim Edmonds that fell in left-center for a single, 3) Chipper Jones had fielded Ray Lankford's ground ball instead of booting it, and catcher Paul Bako hadn't thrown wildly to second, trying to stop Placido Polanco from advancing after a bases-loaded single.

Polanco's hit, one of his three as he justified La Russa's decision to start him at third instead of slumping Fernando Tatis, and a fourth-inning homer by Edmonds were the only pitches that Maddux said he really regretted.

"My stuff was no better or worse than it's been over the last couple months," the 19-game winner said. "I made a good pitch to Vina in that first inning, a good pitch to J.D. Drew [who followed with a broken-bat single] and a good pitch to Edmonds, and they all end up on base. Sometimes things happen and there's no reason why."

Maddux, of course, refused to criticize a defense that he called one of the best in the league, but Chipper Jones said, "We have nobody to blame but ourselves for losing this game. Hopefully, we won't come out Thursday and give them another."

Said Maddux, "I think we're all bitter about losing and upset about the way we played. Sometimes that can make you focus better. We've been here so many times that nobody is going to panic."

This was Ankiel's first time. Will he analyze his performance on film?

"No way," he said. "I only look at the good ones."

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