The sunset in St. Louis is painted gold on the westward facing side of the landmark Gateway Arch and inching its way over the facades of the downtown concrete and glass cathedrals of commerce behind the outfield in the "new" Busch Stadium, where the Washington Nationals start the first of a three-game weekend series tonight against St. Louis' beloved Cardinals with "Opening Night" Odalis Perez on the mound for the visitors and Braden Looper on the mound at home.
Cristian Guzman grounds out to second to start tonight's contest. Lastings Milledge strikes out chasing an 87 mph fastball out of the zone. Ryan Zimmerman hits one deep into the hole at short, but Cesar Itzuris backhands and throws to first in time to give the much-maligned, (In NY at least, St. Louis loves all its Cardinals), Braden Looper his first scoreless frame.
Cardinals' left fielder Brian Barton starts his first Major League game with a chopped double down the line in left and speeeds around first for a leadoff double. Rick Ankiel lets the speedy Barton walk home with a tape-measure shot to right for a home run and an early 2-0 Cardinals lead. Odalis Perez pitches around Albert Pujols with the first three pitches and leaves the 3-0 offering up in the zone and Pujols doubles it off the wall in straight center for the third straight hit of the inning. Tony La Russa-Approved Troy Glaus pops out to former Card Ronnie Belliard for the first out. Ryan Ludwick flies out to Lastings Milledge. Yadier Molina knuckles one to Nick Johnson at first to end the inning.
Nick Johnson hits a tapper back to Looper for the first out of the second. Austin Kearns takes a fastball in the ribs. Paul Lo Duca lines out to third. Troy Glaus throws wide of first on a weak grounder from Ronnie Belliard, everyone's safe. Felipe Lopez takes four straight to load the bases for Odalis Perez, who grounds out to second. 2-0 middle of two.
Odalis Perez hits Cesar Itzuris to put the first man on in the bottom of the second. Braden Looper's sac bunt moves Itzuris into scoring position. Itzuris steals third with Aaron Miles at the plate. Miles flies out to right. Brian Barton grounds out to Belliard to end the second inning of play.
Cristian Guzman grounds out to short to start the third. Lastings Milledge grounds out to Glaus at third. Ryan Zimmerman grounds out to Aaron Mil...Miles misplays it, and can't even make a throw, Zimmerman safe at first. Nick Johnson goes the other way but only as far as the warning track where Brian Barton closes his glove on the top of the third.
Odalis Perez drops a curve on the inside corner on Rick Ankiel to get him staring at strike three. Perez walks Pujols. Perez walks Glaus. Ryan Ludwick grounds to Ronnie Belliard who steps on the bag at second, fires to first, double play to end the third.
Austin Kearns doubles off Looper to start the Nationals' fourth. Paul Lo Duca rips one off Looper's glove and both runners are safe and at first and third for Ronnie Belliard, who grounds into a force at second, allowing Kearns to score. 2-1 Cardinals. Felipe Lopez chases a ball for strike three swinging, but a little more gracefully than Odalis Perez, who spins himself into the ground swinging over a curve for the third out of the fourth.
Odalis Perez issues a leadoff walk to Yadier Molina to start the bottom of the fourth. Cesar Itzuris drops a double into short right, Molina moves to third, Itzuris safe at second. Braden Looper grounds to second, but Ronnie Belliard hesitates throwing home and settles for the out at first as a run scores. 3-1 Cardinals. Aaron Miles lines to left and Itzuris scores. 4-1 Cardinals. Brian Barton lines into Zimmerman's glove at third but it goes right through the webbing and rolls into left. Rick Ankiel grounds out to first...(Power outtage in NJ)...
Top of the fifth. Cristian Guzman grounds to short and reaches on an error by Cesar Itzuris. Lastings Milledge lets Aaron Miles do it himself with a ground ball right over the bag at second, Miles tags and throws to first, double play. Ryan Zimmerman goes the other way with a line drive single to right. Nick Johnson walks. Austin Kearns grounds out to second.
Ryan Ludwick doubles off Odalis Perez to start the Cardinals' fifth. Yadier Molina singles to center, Ludwick beats the throw from Milledge by a few steps, and the Cardinals take a 5-1 lead. (ed. note - "Cue the 'Peanuts' theme...) Chris Schroder comes out of the Nationals' bullpen. Cesar Itzuris singles through second. Looper pops up a sac bunt that just drops in fair, advancing both runners. Aaron Miles grounds to first with the runners going, and Molina's dead to rights at home, Lo Duca chases Molina back to third and tags him for out #2. Brian Barton grounds back to the mound, Schroder throws to first. Five in the books. 5-1 Cardinals.
Troy Glaus knocks Paul Lo Duca's one-hop hotshot down and then throws the slow-footed catcher out. Ronnie Belliard pops up to the pitcher. Felipe Lopez drops a two-out blooper into left for a two-out single off Braden Looper. Pinch hitter Rob Mackowiak grounds out to first. 5-1 middle of the sixth. Joel "Unhittable" Hanrahan takes the mound. Ankiel grounds out to short. Albert Pujols grounds out to short. Hanrahan blows away Glaus. 5-1 with six done.
Russ Springer comes on for St. Louis in the seventh. Cristian Guzman pulls a 2-1 pitch to right and GONE!!! The fans throw it back, but it still counts. 5-2 Cardinals. Lastings Milledge droops one into short center for a single. Ryan Zimmerman lines a single to left. Nick Johnson will face lefty pitcher Ron Villone. Nick Johnson walks to load the bases and chase Villone. AK will face Kyle McClellan. McClellan bends strike three in on Kearns on a 2-2 pitch. Paul Lo Duca goes to a full count and walks MIlledge in from third. 5-3 Cards. Ronnie Belliard rips one off Troy Glaus' glove and into left. Zimmerman scores. 5-4 Cards. McClellan goes to another full count with Felipe Lopez, and strikes him out swinging with a curve. 2 outs, bases loaded. Willie Harris will pinch hit for the pitcher. McClellan gets a groundout to end the top of the frame...5-4 ballgame. Stand up and stretch...
Saul "Sa-ool" Rivera takes over in the bottom of the seventh. Ryan Ludwick goes down swinging. Yadier Molina hits a jam-shot to second where Ronnie Belliard makes the play. Cesar Itzuris grounds out to Belliard too. Seven done. 5-4 score.
Ryan Franklin gets Cristian Guzman to ground out to first. Lastings Milledge sends Rick Ankiel running, but the Cards center fielder catches up and makes the grab for the second out of the eigth. Ryan Zimmerma...all the way to the wall in center, but Ankiel gets it leaning against the padding. Saul Rivera faces Rico Washington to start his second inning of work. Rivera gets a swinging K. Aaron Miles grounds out weakly to second. Skip Schumaker gets to the warning track, but that's all as Kearns makes the grab. Isringhausen's up...
Jason Isringhausen comes on to close it. Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns and Paul Lo Duca due up. Nick Johnson chases a nasty curve in the dirt for a check strike three. Austin Kearns waits on a curve and pushes it out to center for a single. Paul Lo Duca works the count full and takes ball four. Ronnie Belliard chases a 2-2 cutter out off of the plate. Felipe Lopez...full count...everyone in the park is up...Isringhausen paints the outside corner with a cutter, and Felipe Lopez stares it into Yadier Molina's mitt with his bat on his shoulder. Cardinals win 5-4.