I hope that you are all will have a great Easter Sunday. For those of you in the faith, this one is going to be different than any other Easter you’ve had, I imagine. The traditions of the church, the gathering with other believers, they won’t be happening today. That doesn’t mean that the day is any less special or meaningful. Perhaps it’s fitting that we have empty churches on the day we celebrate an empty tomb.
Even if Easter doesn’t hold that sort of significance for you, it will be a different one because there won’t be any baseball. Now sometimes Easter winds up coming before the season starts, but even then there is usually a spring training game to watch in the afternoon around the big meal or the egg hunt. This year, the ball fields will be quiet, just like they have been for the last month.
When you are talking Easter Sunday and the Cardinals, one really quickly comes to mind. It was April 16, 2006. What started as a cloudy day wound up with brilliant sunshine. A brand new ballpark quickly got a good dose of history.
The Cincinnati Reds were in town and Bronson Arroyo was taking on Mark Mulder. Neither would factor into the decision–neither would pitch remarkably well, honestly–but it turned into a wonderful game nonetheless. Let’s look at how it went, because it’s a great way to remember some names.
With two outs in the top of the first, Austin Kearns singled, driving in Ryan Freel. The Cards countered in the bottom of the inning when John Rodriguez tripled in David Eckstein, who had singled, and Albert Pujols, who had walked. Of course, Pujols had some bigger contributions coming up.
Arroyo and Mulder kept the score at 2-1 until the game reached the fifth. With one out, Felipe Lopez (many years before his partial season with St. Louis) singled for the Reds and, after another out, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns went back-to-back with home runs. That gave Dunn seven homers, which lead the National League. For a little while.
In the bottom of the fifth, with the score now 4-2, Aaron Miles singled with one out, which brought up Pujols. (Yes, Miles was the #2 hitter in this one, which probably would have set Twitter ablaze had it been around.) On a 2-2 pitch, Pujols launched one into the left field bleachers, tying the game. Scott Rolen followed and the Cards had their own back-to-back jacks when he sent one out to put St. Louis up 5-4.
Brad Thompson and Adam Wainwright worked a scoreless sixth and seventh. With the game still at one run, Pujols came up with two outs in the seventh and again found the bleachers, tying Dunn for the league homer lead.
The Cardinal bullpen faltered in the eighth, however. Wainwright started the frame but immediately gave up a home run to Quinton McCracken. McCracken only had 21 homers in his career and this was the last one, but it made the game 6-5. Randy Flores, the current scouting director for the club, relieved Wainwright (who is obviously still active) and gave up a one out walk to Freel. Lopez then lined to right, but John Rodriguez botched it, putting runners on the corners. Tony LaRussa then went with the double switch, bringing in Braden Looper to pitch and Hector Luna to replace Miles at second.
Which immediately blew up in TLR’s face as Looper allowed a double that put the Reds on top 7-6. After an intentional walk to Dunn, Looper worked out of the rest of the inning, but the Cards trailed by one with just a couple of innings left.
The bottom of the eighth was one of those frustrating Cardinal innings we’ve seen in the past, where they put four runners on base and don’t score. Juan Encarnacion singled but was caught stealing with Luna at the plate. (My guess, from reading the box score, would be a hit and run but Encarnacion did steal six bases that year.) Luna then singled, of course, and Yadier Molina, showing that ability to come up with a big hit, doubled to put runners at second and third. The Reds loaded the bases by intentionally walking Skip Schumaker, but So Taguchi and Eckstein flew out. The Cards had taken a shot and missed, but the good thing was that meant Pujols would get another AB.
Looper got the Reds in order in the ninth. David Weathers came in to get the save, but Jason Marquis pinch-hit for Looper and singled, putting a runner on for Pujols. Weathers got the count to 1-2 before…..well, you probably know.
It’s not like Pujols wasn’t already a legend, but doing something like this on a day like this was one of those moments that will show up on his highlight reel forever. (Hard to believe, though, he already had a three-homer game before this, in another wild game this time at Wrigley. Interestingly, Pujols had as many 3HR games in Wrigley as he did in Busch, with the other one being in Texas in 2011. You might also remember that one.)
This Easter won’t be as dramatic as that one, in baseball terms, but watching prime Pujols does help ease the sting a bit, doesn’t it?