Ankiel looks to help the Cardinals inch closer to NL Central lead as St. Louis continues its three-game weekend series with the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night.
Now a right fielder, Ankiel erased St. Louis’ one-run deficit with a sixth-inning grand slam and the Cardinals went on to an 8-5 win on Friday, wrapping up August with a 10-4 record at Busch Stadium and 15-13 overall. Ankiel, who ended his pitching career in 2005 due to wildness and injuries, hit 32 homers and knocked in 89 in 102 games with Triple-A Memphis before his recall back to the majors.
“I was so excited and it felt so good,” said Ankiel, who’s hitting .328 (20-for-61) with five homers and 14 RBIs in 17 games since being brought up on Aug. 9. “When I hit it I wasn’t sure if it was gone, but I knew it had a chance. Once I realized it was a home run, especially a grand slam to put us ahead, there’s no better feeling than that.”
The Cardinals are 11-6 in games Ankiel has played, and that surge has pushed them back into contention despite a sub-.500 record. On Aug. 8, St. Louis was in third place with a 52-59 record, and six games behind then-division-leading Milwaukee. St. Louis (65-66) is still in third, but only one half-game behind second-place Milwaukee and two games behind the Central-leading Chicago Cubs.
Heading into the final month of the season, St. Louis has five games remaining against the Cubs - including a day-night doubleheader at home on Sept. 15 - and three versus the Brewers in Milwaukee.
Adam Wainwright (12-9, 3.86 ERA) has been perhaps the Cardinals’ best pitcher this season, but he’s looking for his first win in three starts against the Reds this season. The right-hander has been tagged for nine runs and 13 hits - including four homers - in 11 innings, but has been given only one run of support.
Wainwright, though, is coming off a solid outing against another team with postseason hopes. The Georgia native gave up one run and six hits over seven innings Sunday in a 4-1 win over Atlanta to improve to 5-2 with a 2.51 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break.
“We’ve still got a ways to go but we’ve played ourselves back into contention,” Wainwright said.
Josh Hamilton, who’s own personal struggles with drug abuse have been well documented, led off Friday’s game with his 18th homer to help the Reds take a 3-0 lead. Edwin Encarncion added an inside-the-park homer in the second, but Cincinnati lost for only the third time in 11 games.
The Reds are 31-22 under interim manager Pete Mackanin, who replaced the fired Jerry Narron in July after he led the team to a 31-51 record.
Rookie Phil Dumatrait (0-2, 14.18 ERA) will be recalled from Triple-A Louisville prior to this game, and try for the third time to get his first major league win with Cincinnati (62-73).
Facing Atlanta in his last appearance on Aug. 20, the left-hander lasted only two innings for the second straight game, and gave up a career-high eight runs and seven hits, including a grand slam to Brian McCann, in the Reds’ 14-4 loss at home
“I’m not too concerned about it right now,” Dumatrait said. “I’ve only got four starts in my career. Hopefully, I can turn this around quick.”
Dumatrait, who’s never faced the Cardinals, has been reached for 11 runs, 13 hits and also walked seven in just 5 1-3 innings over two road starts. He comes in with an 18.56 ERA and .464 opponent batting average away from Cincinnati. ecord 24 consecutive steal attempts, including Young and Byrd in the ninth.