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Walker rediscovers stroke with double, triple

4/10/2003

DENVER (AP) -- After looking lost at the plate in his first few games, Larry Walker might have found his stroke again.

Walker, a three-time NL batting champion who entered Wednesday night's game hitting just .172, drove in three runs with a double and a triple as the Colorado Rockies beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-4.

"I got some pitches I could hit, and I hit them today,'' Walker said. "In the past, I haven't been hitting them. I'm just trying to put the ball in play with authority, instead of breaking bats and hitting weak groundballs. I'm trying not to pull off of everything. I've been flying open on every pitch.''

Walker, who tried to change his routine by not taking batting
practice before the game, admitted his failure to deliver in a
crucial situation of Tuesday night's 15-12, 13-inning loss
motivated him. With the bases loaded in the 11th, he grounded into
a 1-2-3 double play.

"When situations like last night come up and I stink the place
up like that, that will stick with you for a while,'' he said.

Manager Clint Hurdle said he wasn't worried about his slugger's
slow start.

"He's made a couple of adjustments,'' Hurdle said. "He's going
to be fine. And when it comes, it's going to come in bunches. All
you have to do is look at the back of his gum card.''

Preston Wilson also drove in three runs. He and Bobby Estalella
each hit two-run homers as Colorado built a 9-0 lead after three
innings.

Nelson Cruz (2-0), making his second straight start because of
injuries to Denny Neagle and Denny Stark, went six-plus innings for
the Rockies, allowing two runs and five hits before he was ejected.

Cruz was tossed in the seventh by plate umpire Mike DiMuro after
hitting Tino Martinez with a pitch. Cruz plunked Jim Edmonds
earlier, and DiMuro issued a warning to both benches after Brett
Tomko threw a pitch behind Todd Helton in the third. Cruz's
ejection meant an automatic ejection for Hurdle, too.

"All my career I've wanted an opportunity to start at the major
league level,'' said Cruz, who came to spring training as a bullpen
candidate. "They know now that I can start and that I can do both.''

Tomko (0-1) gave up nine runs on nine hits in six innings. Edgar
Renteria hit a three-run double for St. Louis, and Scott Rolen
added a solo homer.

The Rockies got to Tomko early, scoring four runs in the first inning and five in the third.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said his overworked bullpen had
nothing to do with leaving Tomko in.

"He hadn't made a lot of pitches,'' La Russa said. "Once he
got settled, he was all right.''

Tomko said the Rockies "had a pretty good game plan of how to
go after me. Their hitting coach (Duane Espy) is my former hitting
coach at San Diego. They were taking everything the other way the
first three innings. Until I established that I was coming inside,
they had a field day with me.''

Helton and Walker had back-to-back RBI doubles in the first, and
Wilson followed with a 445-foot homer to right-center, his first of
the season.

Jay Payton led off the third with a single and Helton walked.
Walker drove a two-run triple to right-center. Wilson hit an RBI
double over the head of left fielder Albert Pujols, and Estalella
hit his third homer of the season, a 438-foot shot to left-center.

Rolen made it 9-1 with a homer in the fourth, his second.

Cruz departed after his pitch hit Martinez, who led off the
seventh, and the Cardinals went on to score three runs on
Renteria's bases-loaded double off Brian Fuentes.

Helton, who reached base in all seven plate appearances Tuesday
night, extended the streak to nine when he doubled and walked in
his first two trips Wednesday. But in the fourth, center fielder
Edmonds ran down Helton's fly ball at the wall.

Game notes
Rockies 2B Ronnie Belliard, who did not start the last
three games because of a twisted right knee, returned to the
starting lineup. ... Pujols, who left Tuesday's game in the eighth
inning after experiencing a recurrence of tightness in his left
hamstring, was back in the starting lineup. But with Colorado
comfortably ahead 9-1 in the sixth, he departed. ... Edmonds,
slowed by a strained left calf, started but left in the fifth. ...
It was the 10th anniversary of the Rockies' first game in Denver,
when Eric Young homered leading off the bottom of the first and the
Rockies beat Montreal 11-4 before 80,227 fans, still a major league
record.