Two Cardinals affiliates remain alive in the Minor League playoffs. Triple-A Memphis is resting and awaiting its opponent in the Pacific Coast League finals, which begin Tuesday with the Redbirds visiting either Tacoma or Sacramento. Double-A Springfield, meanwhile, beat Northwest Arkansas on Saturday, 13-9, to take a 2-1 lead in its best-of-five Texas League semifinal series. Brian Broderick pitched six strong innings, allowing two runs on five hits with five strikeouts and no walks, and seven different S-Cards had two hits each.
Player of the Day honors go to Springfield catcher Nick Derba, who was on base four times in the win. Derba went 2-for-3 with two walks, two RBIs and three runs scored. The 25-year-old played at three different levels this season, combining to hit .209 with a .296 on-base percentage and a .373 slugging percentage. He was a 30th-round pick in the 2007 Draft.
Knuckleball gives Franklin another option
ATLANTA -- Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina isn't perfect. Once in a while a ball gets by him. But you almost never see Molina completely whiff on a pitch, as he did when Freddie Freeman struck out against Ryan Franklin during a 6-3 loss to the Braves on Saturday.
There was a reason for it. It wasn't an errant curveball or changeup that Franklin threw. It was a knuckleball. And in fact he threw several. Franklin estimated that about six or seven of his 37 pitches were knucklers.
"I've been throwing that thing my whole life," Franklin said. "It was like my second pitch from [when I was in] pee-wee -- forever. My dad always said, 'Hey, how come you never throw that knuckleball?' but I never threw it probably until my third year in Seattle. And then I threw it one time."
Franklin figures he threw the pitch a total of three times during his five seasons with the Mariners. He broke it out again a couple of times over the past two years. But on Saturday, he went to it several times. And he figures he may do it again over the season's final three weeks.
"Whatever else I can try to keep a hitter off-balance and put in his head, that's good, because he's thinking up there," Franklin said.
Franklin's knuckler more closely resembles that of R.A. Dickey of the Mets. It has more velocity than the "fluttering" pitch of someone like Tim Wakefield. Even so, it's a challenge for a catcher. Franklin said he never calls for the pitch himself, though. Molina calls it, and Franklin is happy to oblige.
"Yadi, whenever he sees that it's nasty, he'll go to it," Franklin said. "I could see him after I threw a couple. I could see him smiling through his mask."
Pujols playing with troublesome left elbow
ATLANTA -- Albert Pujols has been dealing with a "jammed" left elbow for approximately 2 1/2 weeks, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said on Sunday. Pujols acknowledged the discomfort on Sunday evening, but said he has no plans to sit out as a result.
Pujols has worn a compression sleeve on the elbow and sported a significant wrap on it in the clubhouse as well. He has, for the most part, downplayed the significance of the wraps and declined to go into any detail about what he's dealing with. Pujols hit two home runs in the Cardinals' 7-3 win over the Braves at Turner Field on Sunday.
"The same thing," Pujols said when asked about the condition. "It's bothering me every day, but this is no time to blame and look for excuses. It's time to play the game. There's no DL in September. You need to play the game and do everything that you can to push and hopefully have the opportunity to be in a good spot in the next couple of weeks here."
La Russa said prior to the game that Pujols is feeling better lately, and his numbers reflect that. After a 4-for-31 stretch, Pujols went 9-for-28 with seven extra-base hits on the Cards' just-concluded road trip.
"He dove for a ball, I think it was in Pittsburgh [in late August], and he jammed his left elbow," La Russa said. "And then in Washington, he did it again. ... He couldn't extend. He was just kind of going to the ball. But he still played.
"But it's starting to feel better. I think in Milwaukee [earlier this week], it started to feel better."
Pujols said that he's still not getting full extension in his elbow.
"No," he said. "If I'm telling you yes, I'm lying to you."
Pujols has dealt with right elbow issues for much of his Major League career, but his left elbow has not been problematic in the past.
Of course, despite the nagging aches and pains, Pujols has continued to put up his typical numbers. After driving in his 100th run of the season Saturday -- his 10th consecutive season of doing so, Pujols hit homers 38 and 39 of the season off Tim Hudson on Sunday. He also reached 100 runs for the ninth time.
"I don't look for excuses," he said. "I'm going to play the game until we can't go anymore."
Finale not just another game to La Russa
ATLANTA -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is not generally one to put too much importance on one game within the course of a season. But Sunday night's game took had a little extra relevance for him.
Barring a shocking run to the postseason, the matchup at Turner Field will be the last time La Russa and Braves manager Bobby Cox square off. And that caught La Russa's attention.
"Absolutely, for a lot of reasons," La Russa said when he was asked if the game was meaningful to him. "I asked him to sign the lineup card after the game today. Got a ball signed by him. It's special."
Entering Sunday's game, La Russa held a 66-94 regular-season mark against Cox. However, the St. Louis skipper is 6-4 against Cox's clubs in the postseason.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa acknowledged the obvious on Sunday, telling reporters that Brad Penny has thrown his last pitch for the Cardinals this season. Penny, who signed a one-year deal in December, made nine starts before suffering a strained right lat muscle that kept him out for the remainder of the year. ... Ryan Franklin was considered available to pitch in relief for the Cardinals on Sunday, one day after throwing 37 pitches. However, Kyle McClellan was considered off-limits. McClellan pitched an inning on Friday and two more on Saturday. ... Albert Pujols' next double will give him 35 this year. It would be the seventh season in his career in which he totaled 35 homers and 35 doubles, which would be a Major League record. He's currently tied with Albert Belle with six.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.