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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Pujols' power not enough vs. Cubs

Slugger's 300th homer accounts for Cards' only run
ST. LOUIS -- Troy Glaus dug in on a 3-1 count while leading off the bottom of the ninth. Kerry Wood's 98-mph fastball sat just a bit outside and Glaus trotted to first base.

"Strike two."

Clearly disagreeing with the call, Glaus settled back in for another try. When the ball sailed slightly outside, Glaus made a stride to first before home-plate umpire Ted Barrett spoke up again.

"Strike three."

It was that kind of night for the Cardinals, who lost to the Cubs, 2-1, at Busch Stadium in a pivotal midseason series. Catching the outside corner throughout the ninth inning, Wood shut down the Cardinals and prevented any sort of late-inning heroics.

"I was having a good at-bat in the ninth inning, and the at-bat was taken out of my hands," Glaus said. "That's really all I can say about it."

Manager Tony La Russa questioned the consistency of Barrett's calls during the postgame press conference, saying the Cardinals had a legitimate reason to complain. After Glaus' at-bat, catcher Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Ryan Ludwick also had some strikes called on the outside corner that La Russa disagreed with.

"Check the tape," La Russa said. "I think they'll see there's a legitimate gripe."

La Russa quickly added he was not blaming the result of the game on the umpire, just wondering "what if?"

So, on a night when Jim Edmonds made his first return to Busch Stadium as a member of the Cubs, and when Albert Pujols hit his 300th career home run, the Cardinals' Independence Day joy was squashed by the team they love to hate.

And for a second straight night, they were dominated by an opposing pitcher who threw gas all night long.

Carlos Zambrano, coming off the disabled list on Friday, threw 87 pitches, and only four of them resulted in hits for the Cardinals. Zambrano iced the Cardinals, who only scored after he left the game.

"He's been throwing the ball outstanding all year," Pujols said. "We weren't facing a piece-of-cake pitcher. Zambrano's one of the best pitchers in the league, and he's got our number."

The loss spoiled a superb effort from starter Braden Looper, who was hurt by two mistake pitches. In the first inning, Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome worked the count to 3-2 before taking Looper's fastball and sending it over the right-field wall.

Three innings later, Cubs catcher Geovany Soto took a changeup that was left out over the middle of the plate for the second solo home run of the night.

"I made a couple of other mistakes, but those were the two that cost me," Looper said. "I'm not saying I was perfect for the rest of the game, but those cost me."

Looper threw 120 pitches over his seven innings of work. Allowing just four hits, Looper battled a tough Cubs lineup only to see his effort spoiled.

Also spoiled was Aaron Miles' 15-game hitting streak. Having hit safely for the past two weeks, Miles went 0-for-4 and was unable to extend what was a career-high streak.

"You're thinking about getting on any way you can," Miles said. "This is a big series. It's fun to have a 15-gamer, but you turn the page and go ready to go at it tomorrow."

Pujols ended the Cardinals' scoreless streak when he homered in the bottom of the eighth inning off Bob Howry. The milestone home run was a laser to left field that energized the Cardinals briefly.

For Pujols, the joy from hitting home run No. 300 quickly escaped him following the loss.

"To me, it's just another homer that goes out of the park," Pujols said. "I'm happy to do it in front of our fans -- they were waiting for it."

While the Cardinals were battling their archrival, a former Cardinal sat in the opposing dugout admittedly nervous. Edmonds' return to St. Louis was marred by the misunderstanding he wanted to distance himself from his former team.

Still, Edmonds received a standing ovation in his first at-bat. And though he battled through his first plate appearance, he did not have the grandiose return he would have liked, striking out three times. The support the fans gave Edmonds early ultimately changed to boos in his final at-bats.

Now 3 1/2 games behind the Cubs, the Cardinals will have the opportunity to win their 10th series of the year after losing the opening game.

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