Cardinals unable to pin down rival Cubs

Cardinals unable to pin down rival Cubs

CHICAGO -- Mark Mulder finally got Derrek Lee out. Once, however, was not enough.

Lee crunched a three-run homer off Mulder that proved to be the decisive blow, then added a solo shot against Brad Thompson for good measure, as the Cardinals lost to the Cubs, 11-4, on Thursday afternoon in the opener of a four-game series at Wrigley Field. St. Louis saw a four-game winning streak come to an end, while the Cubs snapped an eight-game skid.

The Cardinals staked Mulder (13-6) to an early lead, but he couldn't make it stand. The left-hander was roughed up for seven runs in four innings. He allowed nine base hits, four of them for extra bases, and issued three walks. In fairness to Mulder, plenty of those base hits were not exactly crushed. On the other hand, while Greg Maddux (9-9) managed to wriggle out of jams, Mulder permitted runs in every inning he pitched.

"It wasn't a good day," said Mulder. "I fell behind a lot. Some of the balls that weren't even hit that hard were decent pitches, but when you're behind in the count, it usually doesn't go in your favor."

Albert Pujols' 32nd home run of the year put Mulder and the Redbirds ahead, 2-0, in the first inning, but the lead began evaporating almost immediately. Mulder had won five straight decisions, and the Cardinals had won the last eight times he took the mound. On Thursday, however, he permitted as many runs in four frames as he had in his previous six starts combined.

"It's jam shots," said pitching coach Dave Duncan. "It's balls off the end of the bat. Balls that aren't put in play solid. It happens sometimes. We get those kind sometimes. It makes the game ugly for the team that it goes against. Is it a reflection on Mulder's pitching? No. I don't think so. It might be a reflection on his luck for the day."

Mulder struck out Jose Macias to open the game, but allowed a double to Neifi Perez for the Cubs' first hit. Lee, who entered the game 7-for-7 in his career against Mulder, scorched a liner for a potential base hit, but David Eckstein snagged it.

Aramis Ramirez singled Perez home, though, to put the Cubs on the board. In the second, a walk, a double and a Maddux RBI groundout tied the score, and Macias' single put the Cubs ahead.

It was 4-2 in the fourth when Lee put the game on ice. Following two-out singles by Macias and Perez, Lee launched a three-run monster shot out of the ballpark in left field. Mulder faced two more batters and was removed for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth.

If Mulder had been more successful against the top of the Cubs order, the game might have had a different look. Macias entered the game with a .304 on-base percentage, Perez at .287. Yet they beat out four base hits in six at-bats against Mulder, allowing Lee and Ramirez ample opportunities to drive them home.

"A couple of the pitches, especially before Lee's homer, a couple of those pitches, they weren't that bad," Mulder said. "They were out in front, they blooped them into the outfield. It happens. Maybe they weren't the right pitches. They kept their hands back and got hits. It's one of those starts that you don't want very often, but they're going to happen now and then."

The Cards closed the gap in the fifth but couldn't do enough damage against Maddux to get Mulder off the hook. They pulled within three runs in the fifth and had two men on, but Maddux whiffed Pujols to end any chance of a big inning -- or a different outcome.

"It probably was a ball," said Pujols. "It was up and away and I just chased it. I wasn't looking inside or looking anything. I was just trying to react and he threw it by me. That's the way it goes. A guy like that, you either get him early or it will be tough to get him late, when he feels comfortable."

Maddux certainly didn't dominate, permitting 11 base hits. He didn't walk anyone, however, and managed to work around potential trouble on more than one occasion. The Cubs hadn't won any of Maddux's last five starts, but they played like a different team on Thursday than they had been doing recently.

As did the Cards, who had plenty of things go wrong.

"Our team got beat," said La Russa. "We had one really good chance and Maddux showed you why he's a 300-game winner. We had a chance to make it a really close game and he got him out, which was a big out for them. They beat us."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.