Friday, July 27, 2007

Tale of two rookies

In 2001, two rookies made the St. Louis Cardinals' roster coming out of spring training, one a left-handed relief pitcher who was talked about as a potential closer, the other a multi-position player who was targeted to perhaps fill a hole at third base.

Neither impressed as the Cardinals were swept three straight in the season-opening series in Colorado. The hitter went 1-for-9, and the pitcher gave up two earned runs in 2 1/3 innings in a relief appearance.

The team traveled to Arizona, where the rookie hitter started opening eyes by putting a hurt on the Diamondbacks: 7-for-14 with 8 RBI in three games. That began a 13-game hitting streak, by the end of which he was hitting .393.

The pitcher, meanwhile, sat on the bench and watched. Finally, 10 days after his first appearance, he entered a game in the seventh inning with the Cardinals trailing Houston, 4-2. The lefty proceeded to walk Jeff Bagwell, hit Richard Hidalgo, walk Lance Berkman and walk Chris Truby. Manager Tony La Russa had seen enough.

Three days later, La Russa brought the pitcher in to relieve Dustin Hermanson, who was getting strafed, with the Cardinals trailing 8-1. The rookie prevented further damage by retiring Armando Reynoso and Tony Womack to end the inning.

But Arizona scored five runs in the fourth, capped by a David Dellucci home run. Tony Womack tripled to open the fifth, and another ex-Pirate, Jay Bell, followed with a homer.

La Russa walked out to the mound to take the ball, and that was it for Chad Hutchinson's Major League Baseball career. His numbers: 3 games, 4 innings, 9 hits, 11 earned runs, 6 walks, 2 strikeouts.

His rookie counterpart, meanwhile, went on to a .329-37-130 season and today has a .331 lifetime average with 273 home runs. At age 27.

His name, of course, is Albert Pujols.

Trivia question 56: For which National Football League teams did Chad Hutchinson play quarterback?

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