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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lohse loses grip

Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse looks toward the scoreboard as he walks off the field after giving up six runs to the Cubs in the fourth inning during Saturday's 9-3 loss at Busch Stadium.
Last year's rule resurfaced Saturday as this season's exception. An out-of-control inning left the Cardinals and their starting pitcher out of position to deal with the Chicago Cubs.

For three innings, Kyle Lohse was good enough to tease with what one teammate described as no-hit stuff. The fourth became a frustrating maze made up of six runs and six hits, including three for extra bases, that allowed the Cubs to even the teams' three-game weekend series with a 9-3 decision.

A record Busch Stadium crowd of 46,792 and a national television audience saw the Cubs pound the Cardinals for 12 hits worth 21 total bases while receiving seven walks, including one with the bases loaded. The Cubs took 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position compared with the Redbirds' five against lefthander Ted Lilly (2-4) and closer-in-waiting Carlos Marmol.

"It was one inning where it got out of whack," said Lohse, who allowed eight earned runs in six innings, the most earned runs he had allowed in 25 starts dating to last June 23.

The outing hiked the team ERA from a league-best 3.37 to 3.55. Lohse saw his personal number spike from 2.36 to 3.79 and suffered his first loss in seven starts with the Cardinals.

This was throwback stuff. A year ago the Cardinals allowed double-digit runs 21 times. Saturday matched a season high for runs allowed, though they managed to hold an opponent under 10 runs for the 31st time this season.

The Cubs' bounce from Friday night's 5-3 Cardinals win returned them to within a half-game of the division lead. The Cardinals lost for only the third time in nine games and surrendered more than six runs for only the sixth time.

"It ain't a lot of fun," manager Tony La Russa quipped about the flashback.

The current rotation enjoys a 14-5 record, as many wins as last year's rotation had through May 30. Three starters have an ERA below 4.00.

Lohse (3-1) had won seven straight decisions spanning times with the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies and Cardinals. He faced the minimum nine hitters through three innings before shortstop Ryan Theriot began the game-changing rally with a one-out single in the fourth.

First baseman Derrek Lee's hit-and-run single put runners at the corners before right fielder Kosuke Fukudome pull-hooked a two-strike cut fastball for a double to score Theriot with the game's first run.

A walk loaded the bases before rookie catcher Geovany Soto bounced a ground-rule double over center fielder Rick Ankiel for a 3-0 lead.

"I know the pitch he made to Lee on 3-2 was a little blooper. He had it 0-2 on the right fielder and the pitch had too much plate. A good hitter made him pay," La Russa said. Fukudome finished with three hits.

Theriot's former LSU teammate, second baseman Mike Fontenot, became the first hitter to reach Lohse for a home run in 37 2/3 innings this season. Fontenot's three-run shot put the Cubs up 6-0, a reversal of form for a Cardinals team that had outscored opponents 86-51 through five innings this season.

"You can always feel it starting to build like that," Fontenot said. "The guy in front of you gets the big hit. There are runners on base. You're biting at it, at a chance to get up there and hit, because you know you have the opportunity to do a lot of damage."

"It started when he missed on the right fielder. He missed two or three more times. The damage got worse," said La Russa, who noted Lohse's search for a put-away pitch in the inning. "He just made some mistakes, and they jumped him."

"I was out there battling," Lohse said. "One bad inning broke our back, but I was able to bounce back and keep us in it. Chalk it up to a bad inning. I battled as hard as I could."

The Cubs improved to 8-3 in their last 11 games at new Busch Stadium and avoided their first three-game losing skid this season. In the series finale, the Cardinals will try to avoid only their second series loss.

A fourth-inning double by right fielder Ryan Ludwick and bases-empty home runs by catcher Yadier Molina, who doubled earlier, and first baseman Albert Pujols pulled the Cardinals within 6-3 through six innings.

Consecutive doubles by Lilly and left fielder Alfonso Soriano leading off the seventh inning evicted Lohse and began a three-run rally that grew against seldom-seen Russ Springer.

"That was the end of it," La Russa said.

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