Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bennett’s hitting carrying Cardinals

August 30, 2006

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— Usually, Albert Pujols is the St. Louis hitter opposing teams worry about most. Right now the Cardinals' most dangerous player may be Gary Bennett, a journeyman catcher playing for his seventh team in six seasons.

Bennett hit a game-winning ninth-inning single Saturday, then topped himself with his first career grand slam for another final at-bat victory Sunday. He's on quite a run - and he's got no idea how it's happening.

"I don't know what to tell you," Bennett said. "There's not one thing I can pinpoint and say I'm different mechanically or anything like that.

"I guess it's just a hot streak."

Among players who've been on the roster all season, Bennett has the fewest at-bats (136). That figures, since manager Tony La Russa likes to use his backup catcher only in an emergency.

Bennett has been getting regular duty lately because Yadier Molina is out with a strained right elbow. A 12-for-17 tear has raised his still-modest average to .243, and all four of his homers this season have come in his last nine games.

"Gary Bennett has been outstanding," pitcher Jeff Weaver said. "These last few games, it's been fun to watch."

More fun for Bennett, of course. He compared the feeling of making perfect contact on his two-out, game-winning grand slam off Bob Howry on Sunday to that of a wide-eyed 4-year-old surveying piles of presents on Christmas morning.

"You round third and you see all of your teammates waiting on you, and jumping up and down and hollering at you," Bennett said. "That's wild."

Bennett's sudden emergence on offense could force the Cardinals to reassess their catching rotation, given the team's hitting woes. Molina is one of the top defensive catchers in the major leagues, but he's been in a season-long slump at the plate and is hitting .218 with five homers and 42 RBIs in 339 at-bats. Bennett has four homers and 22 RBIs.

Molina will have his elbow re-examined today and could return to the lineup that night in the opener of a three-game series against the Florida Marlins.

But Bennett also is solid defensively. He's been a major upgrade from last year's backup, the quickly forgotten Einar Diaz.

"Enjoy the moment, man," La Russa said. "It means we have a great situation behind the plate. The other guy, Mr. Molina, he was taking good swings, too.

"It just makes it a very good situation for us and it means also that we don't have to do anything about rushing Yaddy back."

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