ST. LOUIS (AP)
Stan Musial tributes factor heavily into the St. Louis Cardinals' opening homestand. That means several opportunities to draw on that inspiration.
There'll be even more pomp than usual before the Cardinals begin a three-game series Monday against the NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds. Along with the annual motorcade delivering the team and several of its Hall of Famers clad in red jackets at home plate, Stan the Man's four children will unveil an outfield wall marker.
"Opening day in St. Louis is a pretty special thing,'' second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "They do a really good job. Fortunately, this is going to be my third one.''
A full tribute and harmonica fan giveaway honoring Musial, far and away the best player in franchise history and already honored with two statues outside Busch Stadium, is set for Friday. Several Cardinals past and present attended the funeral in late January for Musial, who died at age 92 after several years of ill health, and the team is wearing a memorial jersey sleeve patch.
Lefty Jaime Garcia, who thrives at home with a career 20-11 record and 2.48 ERA, gets the call in the series opener against Mat Latos and the Reds, who finished a comfortable nine games ahead of St. Louis last season. The Cardinals are 3-3 after taking two of three from the World Series champion Giants, the team they let off the hook in the NL championship series, pummeling ace Matt Cain for ninth fourth-inning runs in a 14-3 win Sunday.
"We don't draw it up, so we just have to compete with whatever they give us,'' manager Mike Matheny said. "It's a great test, no question about it. You want to have everybody clicking early on and get off to a good start, but we also understand it's a long season.''
Before the end of the month, they'll also face the NL East champion Nationals, a Phillies team that has returned to health and the Reds again. The wild-card Cardinals beat the Braves in a one-game playoff and then rallied to eliminate Washington before collapsing in San Francisco.
"I think you want to find out where you are as early as possible,'' Descalso said. "The way you find out is by playing other tough teams.''
After watching the Giants trot out their title trophy, the Cardinals will show off hardware from four of their championship teams: 1967, 1982, 2006 and 2011. Players will drink in the heady atmosphere of perhaps the city's biggest annual event, with Gov. Jay Nixon and Mayor Francis Slay among the dignitaries expected to attend.
"St. Louis is a great city and baseball town,'' catcher Yadier Molina said. "I can't wait to get there.''
The same goes for third baseman David Freese, hopeful of returning for the opener off a short rehab stint from a back injury with Triple-A Memphis, although Matheny cautioned that "it's not automatic.''
The Reds are coming off a strong 4-2 opening homestand against two teams that are expected to contend, putting up six runs on Stephen Strasburg on Sunday and taking two of three from the Nationals and Angels. Todd Frazier is among the NL leaders with a .480 average, is tied for the league lead with 12 hits - including three homers - and also tied for first with nine RBIs. Newcomer Shin-Soo Choo also is off to a fast start with three homers.
"St. Louis is always a good place to play,'' Jay Bruce said. "The fans come out every day, it's always packed. There's always a good feel there.''
The Cardinals have dominated at home against the Reds, who have won just three series and split two out of 27 chances dating to 2003. The Reds, though, are far from intimidated.
"We'll take them one game at a time,'' manager Dusty Baker said. "Let's enjoy this one, go there, have a nice dinner and get some sleep.''
The Reds set a franchise record with 52 strikeouts the first five games, and Johnny Cueto and three relievers combined for 10 more on Sunday.
Latos fanned eight in his first outing Wednesday against the Angels, allowing three runs in 6 2-3 innings, but his visits to St. Louis have generally been a disaster. The right-hander is 1-3 with a 13.50 ERA in four career starts at Busch.
Garcia, on the other hand, is 6-0 with a 2.11 ERA in six starts at home versus Cincinnati.