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Friday, July 18, 2008

Solo blasts lift Lohse, Cards to victory

Glaus (two), Ankiel, Mather collect homers; righty wins No. 12
By Lee Hurwitz
ST. LOUIS -- The $4.25-million man and the fiery-hot third baseman struck gold again.

The Cardinals rejoiced in a 4-3 win on Thursday night at Busch Stadium, led by two of their hottest players. Behind the strong arm of Kyle Lohse and the power of Troy Glaus' lumber, the Cardinals' second half is off to as good a start as it gets.

They may have played the Padres, owners of the second-worst record in the Majors, but the Cardinals had to face two-time All-Star Jake Peavy after a three-day rest.

The Cardinals had their equalizer in Lohse -- unwanted at the beginning of the year by 29 teams due to his asking price, only to become arguably the best free-agent signing of the offseason.

Lohse (12-2) won his ninth straight decision while giving up two runs over seven innings. May 8 was the last time Lohse walked off the field a loser, and he has only lost two decisions in his past 32 starts, dating back to July 20, 2007.

"It's one of those years, I don't want to talk about it," Lohse said. "It's a good run."

While Lohse was not perfect, he was able to make the adjustments throughout the game -- adjustments he may not have made in past years.

Lohse's 4 1/2-month marriage to catcher Yadier Molina and pitching coach Dave Duncan has done wonders for him, as he is now using his entire arsenal and changing speeds frequently.

"I didn't really feel like I had the best control," Lohse said. "In years past, I would just keep pumping fastballs and sliders in there. Today, I topped some curveballs, changeups and kept them off balance, really."

With Lohse dominating like usual from the mound, the Cardinals turned to Glaus -- who has been on a torrid pace offensively.

Since June 25, Glaus has hit .366 and slugged .746. Don't forget his seven home runs, either, in that time frame -- two of which he tagged off Peavy on Thursday night.

"Phew," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's not just piling up the stats, he's piling up clutch at bats. He's getting hits when we've really needed them."

Down 1-0 in the second inning against one of the premier pitchers in the game, Glaus took a Peavy curveball and sent it 404 feet into left field. After Rick Ankiel knocked his 21st home run of the season in the bottom of the fourth, Glaus followed suit with one of his own.

Glaus' 17th home run gave the Cardinals back-to-back home runs for the second time this year, and handed Glaus his 27th multihomer game.

"You face a guy like that, you've got to take advantage of every opportunity you have," Glaus said. "He made some mistakes to guys with nobody on and we took advantage of a few of them."

But as well as Lohse and Glaus played, the game started out relatively slowly and not in the Cardinals' favor.

Edgar Gonzalez singled and scored in the first for the Padres. However, with runners on first and second and only one out in the third inning, Albert Pujols snagged a line drive and tagged out Kevin Kouzmanoff for an unassisted double play.

But in La Russa's eyes, down one run to Peavy, the Cardinals might as well have been dead in the water.

"As soon as they got one, you think, 'Man, this guy on the mound can beat us 1-0,'" La Russa said. "He doesn't make many mistakes."

Yet, uncharacteristically, Peavy did make his mistakes, and the Cardinals took advantage.

After the Padres opened up a 2-1 lead on Gonzalez's homer in the third, Ankiel and Glaus went back-to-back in the fourth. In the seventh inning, Joe Mather pinch-hit for Lohse and provided an all-important insurance run with a home run of his own.

It proved to be more than just an insurance run.

Ryan Franklin allowed back-to-back doubles to open the top of the ninth inning and trim the score to 4-3. But Franklin bore down to retire the next three batters in order.

"The guy's got great guts and that was a clutch recovery," La Russa said.

Winners in three of their past four games, and now only four games behind the first-place Cubs, the Cardinals are in the driver's seat for their destiny as the second half begins.

Whether they make something out of it remains to be seen.

"At this point, we just need to tally wins -- regardless who's on the other side," Glaus said. "Whether it's in our division, outside our division, whatever -- we just need to tally wins."

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