Leaving one nest for another: Redbirds go up to benefit the NL's Big Birds.


click to enlarge Frank Murtaugh
  • Frank Murtaugh

Anthony Reyes made his much-anticipated big-league debut for the St. Louis Cardinals on August 9th in Milwaukee. Other than a bigger ballpark and a guy named Pujols at first base, though, the event had to seem all too familiar for the 23-year-old pitching prospect. When Reyes looked at his outfield, he saw John Rodriguez in left and Hector Luna in right. At third base was Scott Seabol and behind the plate, the familiar squat of Mike Mahoney. Reyes could have been forgiven if he expected the Nashville Sounds -- Milwaukee’s Pacific Coast League affiliate -- to be his opposition for the night. All the Cardinals seemed to be missing on Reyes’ big night was “Memphis” stitched across their jerseys.

The Cards are well on their way to another division title and the truth is, if they prevail they’ll owe Memphis a postseason share. When you add pitcher Brad Thompson and outfielder John Gall to the quintet already mentioned, you have the biggest collection of Triple-A promotees to play for St. Louis since the Redbirds arrived in 1998. And the former bush-leaguers have hardly been roster-filler. Four of the Cardinals’ regular eight players -- catcher Yadier Molina, third-baseman Scott Rolen, and outfielders Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker -- have missed the last month of play with various injuries. It’s fair to say that were it not for the contribution of the Memphis Seven, the Houston Astros would be right on the Cardinals’ tail feathers.

Seabol drilled his first major-league home run to help beat the fabled New York Yankees June 12th. Gall’s first two RBIs were enough to beat a tough Florida Marlins club. Rodriguez was a hero in a Friday-night win over the Cubs the week of his St. Louis debut in July. Anyone who forecast this kind of contribution from Triple-A call-ups on a team as packed with talent as St. Louis should have a corner office on Wall Street.

The irony in all this? The Cardinals have, for the first time in eight years, adversely affected a pennant race here in Memphis. Despite taking two of the first three games against first-place Nashville last weekend, Memphis remains a distant second place in the PCL’s American North Division. Had Seabol, Rodriguez, Gall, and Luna been in the middle of the Memphis lineup on a nightly basis, AutoZone Park just might be hosting playoff baseball next month.

Reyes threw an impressive six innings at the Brewers, giving up two runs and only two hits to earn the first of what the Cardinals hope will be many, many wins. After giving up a two-run homer to Bill Hall in the second inning, Reyes retired 15 of the last 16 batters he faced. Best of all, he tallied 19 outs with only 76 pitches. No nibbling from Mark Prior’s old Southern Cal running mate. Consider a spot in the 2006 St. Louis rotation locked up.

The big righty is back with Memphis, having been promoted as a means for the Cardinals’ starting five to gain an extra day of rest. Reyes took the hill at AutoZone Park Sunday, this time against Milwaukee’s actual Triple-A outfit. And he dominated: no runs, two hits, and a franchise-record 15 strikeouts in seven innings of work. Suffice it to say the Brewers’ organization has seen enough of Anthony Reyes.

Gall and Reyes have each managed a seamless transition back to their Triple-A routine, and they’ll surely head for St. Louis when big-league rosters expand in September. The beauty for these young prospects in this season of promotional support is they’ll find several familiar faces awaiting their return.

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