Ankiel homers twice with 7 RBIs in Cardinals’ 16-4 victory over Pirates

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ST. LOUIS (AP)—Rick Ankiel isn’t just hitting, he’s turning into a force.

Ankiel homered twice and had a career-high seven RBIs, leading the St. Louis Cardinals over the Pittsburgh Pirates 16-4 Thursday in a game shortened to eight innings because of rain.

“Marvel is a good word,” manager Tony La Russa said. “It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? Clutch, too.”

Ankiel hit a tiebreaking, three-run homer in the second inning for a 5-2 lead against Bryan Bullington (0-1), who made his first major league start five years after he was the No. 1 overall pick in the amateur draft. Ankiel made it 11-3 with a two-run drive in the fifth against John Grabow and added a two-run double in the sixth off Dave Davidson, making his big league debut.

Brought up Aug. 9 in his first major league appearance since he pitched for the Cardinals in 2004, Ankiel is batting .358 with nine homers and 29 RBIs in 23 games. He also homered twice against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 11.

“It feels as good as it can feel,” Ankiel said. “The thing to remember when you get up there with runners on base is that the pitcher is the one that’s in trouble.”

He made his second start in center field, hauling in Steven Pearce’s drive at the wall in the third. He barely missed a diving catch on pinch-hitter Matt Kata’s slicing drive that fell for a double in the fourth, getting a round of applause for the effort, in addition to making a pair of curtain calls after his homers.

“It was a good day, that’s for sure,” Ankiel said. “It’s been unbelievable.”

St. Louis (69-68) is one game behind NL Central co-leaders Chicago and Milwaukee, scoring its most runs since Aug. 29, 2001, against San Diego. The Cardinals had 22 hits, their highest total since April 27, 2003, at Florida.

“They took some of our young kids and hit them hard—period,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. “Flat pitches in the middle of the plate get hit often, and hard.”

The Cardinals are 17-9 since the Ankiel call-up.

“It seems like we’ve been winning since I’ve been here,” Ankiel said. “Hopefully we can continue.”

Mike Maroth, back from a bout of elbow tendinitis, allowed two runs, six hits and two walks in 1 2-3 innings, throwing 54 pitches in his first appearance since Aug. 4. On Wednesday, Mark Mulder pitched for the first time in over a year and gave up six runs over four innings in an 8-2 loss.

“It was a matter of just not being aggressive enough early in the count,” Maroth said. “I made a lot of pitches that would have been good with two strikes, or when I was ahead in the count but early in the count you’ve got to make them put it in play.

Kelvin Jimenez (2-0) got one out for the win, throwing a called third strike past Jason Bay to end the second with the bases loaded.

Bullington gave up five runs and seven hits over three innings in his second big league outing. He received a $4 million bonus when he signed with the Pirates out of Ball State, then went 34-17 in three minor league seasons, his climb through the minors slowed by a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 2006.

He also singled in his first career plate appearance in the second and scored his first run later in the inning.

“My fastball was a little flat and my slider was a little loopy at times,” said Bullington, who made one relief appearance for Pittsburgh in September 2005. “They took advantage of it, that’s for sure.”

Davidson worked the sixth and allowed four runs—three earned—and four hits.

Aaron Miles and David Eckstein each had three hits and an RBI for the Cardinals, who split the four-game series. Jose Bautista had two hits and two RBIs for the Pirates.

Maroth escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first, getting Pearce on a called third strike. Bautista and Freddy Sanchez hit consecutive RBI singles in the second tie it at 2.

Notes

The start of the game was delayed 1 hour, 26 minutes because of rain, and there was a mandatory 30-minute delay before the game was called with no outs in the top of the ninth. Wednesday’s game began after a 49-minute rain delay. … One of the biggest cheers of the day came when the crowd noticed on the jumbo scoreboard that the Dodgers had taken the lead in a four-run ninth against the Cubs in a 7-4 victory. “The crowd goes crazy and you’ve got to look up yourself,” Ankiel said. … Miles is batting .476 (20-for-42) with six RBIs against the Pirates. … The Cardinals’ previous seven-RBI game was by Scott Rolen on Sept. 15 last year at home against the Giants. … Jack Wilson had two hits and was 11-for-16 in the series. He’s batting a major league-best .409 (36-for-88) since Aug. 1.

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