Cardinals 4, Braves 1
ATLANTA (AP)—Larry Walker is getting comfortable as the No. 2 hitter for baseball’s No. 1 team in wins.
Walker hit a two-run homer and stole two bases and Woody Williams won his sixth straight decision as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Atlanta Braves 4-1 on Friday night in the series opener between division leaders.
The Cardinals looked playoff-ready as Williams and two relievers held the Braves to three hits. Albert Pujols also homered as the Cardinals improved the best road record in baseball to 39-18.
St. Louis is also the first team to win 75 games.
“The confidence, no one has to say anything about the confidence in here,” Walker said. “You can see it flowing out of everybody.”
Williams (9-6) allowed only three hits and one run in seven innings as St. Louis stretched its NL Central lead over the Chicago Cubs to 13 1/2 games. He has six wins and five no-decisions since his last loss June 8 at Chicago against the Cubs.
Williams is 4-1 with a 1.94 ERA in his career against the Braves, including two wins this year in which he has allowed two runs in 15 innings.
“I have no idea why that is,” Williams said, adding “I just think it’s just a freak thing.”
Williams allowed just one baserunner to advance past second base—Chipper Jones’ leadoff homer in the seventh. Williams walked two batters but otherwise consistently stayed ahead in the count, throwing first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 25 batters he faced.
“He doesn’t get a lot of recognition but boy, the guy can really pitch,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
One week after joining the Cardinals in a trade with Colorado, Walker continued to give his new team’s lineup a different look. Hitting behind leadoff hitter Tony Womack and ahead of Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, Walker gives an already strong lineup more power and depth.
“Whenever you’ve got Larry Walker hitting second you know you’ve got a pretty good lineup,” Jones said. “That may be one of the best lineups I’ve ever seen. They’ve got an All-Star at every position.”
Walker stole bases in the first and ninth innings.
“The legs are feeling good,” he said. “I’m getting the right jumps in the right situation. It’s not something I’m going to be doing all the time. I don’t expect to steal 30 to 40 bases, just take what I can when I can.”
Pujols opened the sixth with his 33rd homer, a 398-foot drive to left-center.
Walker knocked Byrd out of the game with a two-run homer with two outs in the seventh, making it 4-0. His eighth homer was his second in six games with the Cardinals. Walker just missed homering when he sent a ball foul to deep right before he hit the drive over the left-field wall.
Byrd (4-4) gave up seven hits and four runs in 6 2-3 innings.
“It’s a great lineup,” Byrd said of the Cardinals. “It’s well-balanced. They have righties, they have lefties, they have power, they have average, they have some speed. They have a great lineup.”
Entering the game, the Braves had matched the Cardinals for the best record (20-6) since the All-Star break.
Byrd was making his 10th start of the season and his first against the Cardinals in his return from reconstructive elbow surgery on July 1, 2003.
Walker’s two steals gave him three in six games with the Cardinals. He had three stolen bases in 38 games with Colorado before he was traded to St. Louis. … Byrd has given up at least one homer in five straight starts. … With his next win, Williams will give the Cardinals five pitchers with 10 or more victories.