Cards cut Big Unit down to size, 12-2

D'backs ace is jumped for 5 runs in 4 innings as visitors rule opener

October 02, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX - This is what the St. Louis Cardinals knew they had to do during their trip to Arizona. They had to put a dent in at least one of the seemingly unbeatable Cy Young Award candidates that make the defending world champion Diamondbacks such an imposing postseason team.

No sense putting it off to the last minute.

The Cardinals jumped on 24-game winner Randy Johnson for five runs in the first four innings and scored a resounding 12-2 victory in the opener of the National League Division Series at Bank One Ballpark.

St. Louis starting pitcher Matt Morris pitched seven strong innings on the way to his first career postseason victory. Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen launched big home runs off The Big Unit before the shaky D'backs bullpen let things get completely out of hand in a six-run seventh.

It was just the first game, of course, but the psychological implications for both teams are enormous. Now, if the Cardinals can put a similar hurt on Curt Schilling in Game 2 tomorrow afternoon - something they did just last week - they'll be in a position to exploit the soft underbelly of the Diamondbacks' rotation and make this a very short series.

The Diamondbacks can't afford to doubt Schilling, but his late-season dropoff and his disappointing performance against the Cardinals in a game with postseason implications last Wednesday have got to be cause for real concern in the Valley of the Sun.

There's more. The Cardinals swept last week's interdivisional series against the Diamondbacks and have now won 22 of their past 26 games dating back to early September. They are baseball's hottest team, but carrying that momentum into the postseason against the two winningest pitchers in baseball figured to be no small accomplishment.

"You just have to tip your hat obviously to their offense," Johnson said.

"It goes without saying that I didn't pitch as well as I should have or could have. I didn't make the quality pitches you see over the course of the regular season and the pitches you need to make in a five-game postseason series."

Johnson was all but unhittable during the regular season - and soon may have another Cy Young Award to prove it - but he raises the same question every time he pitches in the postseason: Which Big Unit is going to show up? The D'backs were expecting the nasty left-hander who went 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA against the New York Yankees in last year's World Series and entered last night's start with a five-game postseason winning streak.

The Cardinals were hoping for the erratic Randy - the one who carried a seven-game postseason losing streak into last year's National League Championship Series - or the so-so Randy they managed to squeak past before losing last year's Division Series.

It was the Cardinals who got their wish. Johnson gave up a two-run home run to Edmonds in the first inning and surrendered a mammoth two-run blast to Rolen in the fourth as St. Louis built a 5-2 lead in the early innings.

"He appeared to me to be rushing a little bit," said Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly. "He wasn't quite as sharp as he usually is, and they are a very unforgiving team."

Johnson could curse the fates in the first inning after shortstop Tony Womack picked up a routine grounder by leadoff hitter Fernando Vina and threw wide of first for an error. Bad fortune would have nothing to do with the three-run fourth inning, which began with a long triple by Albert Pujols before Rolen hit the facing of the second deck in center field.

What a postseason debut for the new Cardinals third baseman, who never got a sniff of playoff baseball during parts of seven seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Cardinals would add three singles to score a third run in the fourth, making Johnson look too human for the sellout crowd of 49,154.

"Obviously, I feel very bad that I put the team in a hole right from the get-go," Johnson said. "They [the Cardinals] clearly had a very good approach against me tonight. Their left-handers had a lot of success against me."

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