Ankiel homer helps Cardinals beat Reds 3-2 for series sweep

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ST. LOUIS (AP)—Rick Ankiel may have been a little out-of-sync mentally, striding to the plate minus his helmet before a pivotal at-bat and apparently forgetting the number of outs in the ninth inning.

However, the former pitcher did plenty of things right, helping the St. Louis Cardinals cap a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds with a 3-2 victory on Sunday.

“You know what it is?” Reds interim manager Pete Mackanin said. “We know how to pitch to him, but we just can’t make the pitches.”

After striding to the plate minus his helmet and being forced to retrace his steps in the sixth inning, Ankiel homered for the game’s first run. He added a sacrifice fly in the seventh, his ninth RBI of the series.

Then, after running down Javier Valentin’s drive to right field for the second out in the ninth, Ankiel jogged several steps to the wall as if it had been the final out.

Quickly regaining his bearings, Ankiel turned and threw a belated no-hop strike to second base to prevent Scott Hatteberg from advancing.

In an apparent effort to keep expectations from skyrocketing, manager Tony La Russa tried to deflect attention from Ankiel, who is batting .353. LaRussa took him off the hook for the late throw on the catch, mentioning wet grass near the warning track although it’s been dry for several days.

The manager also contended the team was doing just fine before Ankiel was recalled.

“He’s come in and given us a tremendous lift and he’s definitely making it happen,” LaRussa said, leaving out the Cardinals’ 52-59 record before Ankiel’s arrival on Aug. 9. “We weren’t dead in the water, we had things going.”

Not dead, perhaps, but a 15-7 record since shows some new life.

Ankiel, who declined a post-game interview request on Sunday and also avoided the media after a three-hit, three-RBI day on Saturday, looked sharp enough to the Reds.

After holding a brief team post-game meeting, Mackanin blamed his pitchers.

“I’m sure he’s going to be a good hitter,” Mackanin said. “But, boy oh boy, every ball he hit looked like a cookie as we call it in the trade.”

Braden Looper allowed four hits in seven scoreless innings and Aaron Miles added an RBI double in the sixth as the Cardinals finally broke through against Bronson Arroyo. Looper (12-10) is 7-1 with an NL-best 1.74 ERA in day games and 4-9 with a 6.52 ERA at night.

Looper, who has two young children, is an early riser and said that may have something to do with his success.

“I’m usually up by 8:30 no matter what, or even earlier now that school has started,” he said. “Is that the reason? I don’t know, but that’s the only thing I can think of.”

The Cardinals are 15-4 in their last 19 games at home and swept the Reds in St. Louis for the first time since 2005, when they closed the final regular season at old Busch Stadium with three straight wins.

The defending World Series champions (67-66) are above .500 for the first time since April 15, when they were 6-5.

Jeff Keppinger’s RBI single in the eighth off Ryan Franklin, the third straight hit by the Reds, cut the gap to 3-1. With runners on first and third, Franklin recovered to strike out Ken Griffey Jr. and cleanup hitter Brandon Phillips to end the inning.

Jason Isringhausen allowed consecutive singles leading off the ninth before pinch-hitter Norris Hopper hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2. Isringhausen retired Alex Gonzalez on a groundout with the tying run on first for his 28th save in 30 chances.

Arroyo (7-14) allowed three runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings with seven strikeouts and two walks. Unlike Looper he struggles in day games, going 1-6 with a 5.36 ERA, while he’s 6-8 with a 4.13 ERA at night.

“We just couldn’t get anything started against Looper,” Arroyo said. “I really didn’t see much of it, but I know I only got about 25 to 35 seconds of rest between innings.

“So I assumed he was throwing the ball pretty good.”

Notes

Cardinals backup C Gary Bennett drew his first intentional walk of the season in the sixth as the Reds capitalized on the pitcher batting eighth. Looper, batting with runners on first and second, took a called third strike to end the inning. … The Cardinals have swept only four series on the year. … Both starting pitchers threw 93 pitches, 56 of which were strikes. … Looper has won five of his last eight starts.

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