Missouri baseball defeats Illinois at Busch Stadium

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | 10:39 p.m. CDT; updated 11:00 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Blake Brown swings the bat in the first inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Wednesday, April 11. The Missouri Tigers beat the Illinois Illini 5-4 in an annual rivalry game at the Cardinals' stadium.

ST. LOUIS — Less than a year after being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, Brett Graves took the mound at Busch Stadium on a chilly April evening. 

Instead of the red and white of his hometown team, however, Graves was wearing the black and gold uniform of the Missouri Tigers. He allowed three runs over six innings to lead Missouri to a 5-4 victory over Illinois on Wednesday night. 

Graves, a product of Francis Howell High School in St. Charles, had committed to play at Missouri by the time he was drafted in the 26th round, and he decided the best choice was to go to college. He had his best start of the season in front of his family and friends who came to the game.

Graves had a 1-3 record over his first four starts and had an ERA over 7 coming into Wednesday's game. He exited the game to a standing ovation from the Tigers fans behind Missouri's dugout.

He said playing at the home of the team that drafted him might have served as extra motivation. 

"I'm definitely 100 percent happy with where I'm at, and I think I made the correct decision, but it's awesome," Graves said. "My hometown, get drafted by them, and come back to pitch in a black and gold uniform. Hopefully one day I'll be here with a red uniform."

Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said he wanted Graves to pitch for as many innings as possible.

"We were going to let him go as long as he was effective," Jamieson said. 

Jamieson said Graves could compete for the team's Sunday starting spot if he continues to pitch like he did tonight.

"I think so, if he pitches like that," Jamieson said. "It's going to be hard for him to do it this weekend because he threw 95 pitches tonight, but he needed to do that."

About a thousand fans of Missouri and Illinois were scattered throughout the seats between first and third base, as vendors roamed the stands selling soda, beer and hot chocolate. Between innings, the video board in center field played the same promotions that it would at a Cardinals game. 

The game was Missouri's third game at Busch Stadium in the past four years. It improved to 3-0 at the stadium with Wednesday's win.

Graves wasn't the only local player who got a chance to shine at the major-league ballpark. Five of Missouri's offensive starters hail from the St. Louis area, and all five reached base at least once. 

The game was also a treat for out-of-state students who didn't grow up watching the Cardinals. First baseman Mike McGraw, who is from Georgia, had never seen Busch Stadium until he attended a World Series game there last year. 

McGraw praised the efforts of Missouri's hometown hero of the night. 

"He's a hometown kid, born and raised here," he said. "He's struggled a little bit, but tonight he came out there and kind of went after the first three innings and then started grooving. You could tell he was feeling good to be here."

Wednesday night's win was the Tigers' second in two days. The team will head to Norman, Okla. to resume Big 12 play against Oklahoma this weekend.

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