ST. LOUIS | Let’s start with a disclaimer.
Yes, it was a great time to catch the St. Louis Cardinals. Their big gun, Albert Pujols, is sidelined by a strained calf. They’re also missing catcher Yadier Molina. And their rotation is a mess.
The Royals took pains to point out all of this Thursday afternoon, and it still couldn’t diminish the sweetness of a three-game sweep after their 4-1 victory at Busch Stadium.
“They’ve still got some boppers over there,” second baseman Mark Grudzielanek said. “You look at how we threw. Our three guys went out there and gave us a chance to win. We held them to four runs in the series.”
Four runs in three games.
“I’m telling you,” Grudzielanek laughed, “we’ll do fine all of the time if our guys can hold teams to four runs in a series. It’s a beautiful thing.”
The finale wasn’t quite as tense as the first two games. Mark Teahen’s two-run homer in the ninth inning provided an extra cushion after the Royals squeaked out 2-1 and 3-2 victories.
“It was nice when we got those extra runs,” said Joakim Soria, who posted saves in all three games. “It was more tranquilo . More relaxed. I just tried to keep my role the same.”
Exactly the same.
Soria delivered one-two-three innings in all three games and now has 18 saves in 19 opportunities. This save rewarded Zack Greinke, 6-4, for limiting the Cardinals to just one run and two hits in seven innings.
Ramon Ramirez pitched a one-two-three eighth with a one-run lead.
“There was a lot of good defense,” Greinke said. “There were a lot of decently hit balls that were right at people, but every play was made. That makes it a lot easier. When every play is made, and even some extra plays, you get into a groove.”
The Royals are in one, too, after matching a season high with their fifth straight victory. They completed a 5-1 road trip that began last Friday with a 1-0 loss to Arizona in 10 innings.
It was also their first three-game sweep in 35 road series against National League opponents since interleague play began in 1997. They had a two-game sweep at Cincinnati in 1998.
“Everything has been going good lately,” Greinke said. “The whole team — there are four parts: the defense, bullpen, starting and the hitting. All four of them, if they’re not playing really well, they’re playing at least solid. “It’s good baseball right now all the way round.”
Teahen also contributed a RBI single and a triple to the Royals’ 10-hit attack. Grudzielanek had two hits and drove in the other run.
It was the first sweep suffered this season by the Cardinals in 24 series. They are 3-5 in Pujols’ absence and have scored fewer than three runs in five of their last seven games. Their two hits Wednesday were a season low.
“He’s a major force that’s not in your lineup,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said, “but this club against us has thrown a bunch of quality starts.
“Even with Albert, it’s only one bat. We made a mistake; they hit it out of the park. Three days’ worth."
The Royals won the opener when Mike Aviles broke a tie with a homer in the eighth inning. They trailed Wednesday before David DeJesus and Alex Gordon hit homers in the eighth. Teahen’s homer in the finale was a back-breaker.
“Especially with Soria coming in there and throwing strikes,” Teahen said. “That’s nice.”
St. Louis starter Brad Thompson, just off the disabled list, gave up two runs and five hits in five innings before exiting after 60 pitches. Those two runs were enough to stick him with the loss.
The Royals scored twice in the fourth when Grudzielanek hit an RBI double before scoring on Teahen’s single through the right side. The Cardinals got their only run later in the inning on Rick Ankiel’s two-out homer.
“Bad pitch,” Greinke said. “He looked bad on changeups, but I threw like six of them to him in that at-bat. He fouled off some good ones, and then I made a mistake with one, and he hit it well.”
Thompson, 1-2, was optioned to Class AAA Memphis after the game. The Cardinals plan to recall reliever Mike Parisi before starting a nine-game trip Friday in Boston.
The Royals did little against relievers Jason Isringhausen and Randy Flores but jumped Chris Perez in the ninth.
Grudzielanek worked a one-out walk, and Teahen followed with a 395-foot homer into the Cardinals’ bullpen beyond the right-field wall. It was Teahen’s seventh homer of the season, which matched his entire 2007 total.
“It starts with our starting pitching,” Teahen said, “and Greinke did a great job again today. They’re keeping us in games long enough for us to figure outs ways to scratch out runs. It’s fun.”
Even with a disclaimer.