Monday, September 14, 2009

Florida Marlins' Ricky Nolasco squanders support as playoff hopes grow dimmer

Marlins Cardinals Baseball

The Marlins rallied from an early four-run deficit, but starter Ricky Nolasco couldn't hold the lead against the Cardinals.


When Ricky Nolasco looks back after the season ends in a few weeks, there will be much that won't please him. His bad start. His midseason demotion to the minors. His bloated earned-run average. His so-so record.

But Nolasco won't be left unsatisfied with the run support that he received. Or maybe he will, considering he didn't make better use of the runs his teammates generated for him.

Monday served as another painful reminder of that.

The Marlins scored six runs for Nolasco in four innings, wiped out an early 4-0 deficit to take a 6-4 lead, and watched the pitcher give it all back -- and more -- in next to no time.

The St. Louis Cardinals turned the dimmer switch down a notch on the Marlins' fast-fading playoff hopes, emerging with an 11-6 victory at Busch Stadium. The defeat left the now-desperate Marlins seven games behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East and kept them hanging -- barely -- on the periphery of the wild-card race.

``That's the kind of hitting team they are,'' Nolasco said of the Cardinals. ``They're one of the best lineups in the league.''


From Sunday to Monday, the Marlins went from one end of the spectrum to the other by going from the Washington Nationals to the Cardinals. The Nationals have the worst record in the NL; the Cardinals have one of the best.

And yet the outcomes were no different.

After losing two out of three to the Nationals on a rain-dreary weekend in South Florida, the Marlins showed up in St. Louis needing a strong performance from Nolasco.

They didn't get it.

The Cardinals charged out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, and Nolasco was fortunate the damage wasn't worse than it was. Mark DeRosa's long fly ball to center with a man aboard was caught on the warning track.

``About all I can do is tip my cap to them,'' Nolasco said. ``You can just tell it's a professional team over there, the way they're fundamentally sound.''

Nolasco worked through the next two innings without incurring further harm, and the Marlins chipped away against Todd Wellemeyer, scoring one run each in the second and third innings.

The Marlins came up with four runs in the fourth to take a 6-4 lead. Chris Coghlan drove in two runs with a triple and Nick Johnson added two more with a line-drive home run to right.

Nolasco received his usual dose of offensive help. The Marlins score, on average, seven runs per outing for Nolasco, who ranks among the top 20 pitchers in the NL in run support.


But Monday, Nolasco couldn't hold his newfound lead for even an inning. Julio Lugo tied the score in the bottom of the fourth with a two-run triple to right-center, and Albert Pujols put the Cardinals back on top with a sacrifice fly.

``It's a good lineup,'' Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ``They can put a lot of runs up in a hurry.''

Nolasco stuck around long enough to complete five innings, but it was only to spare the Marlins' weary bullpen. The Marlins have not had a starter go at least seven innings since Aug. 18, a stretch of 25 games.

The Cardinals put the game out of reach in the eighth inning, scoring four runs off reliever Matt Lindstrom.


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