The Cardinals' offense erupted against Tim Hudson, the St. Louis defense made some excellent plays and Lohse made it through 5 1/3 innings in a 7-3 win over the Braves on a historic night at Turner Field. The St. Louis bullpen pitched in nicely as well, with Blake Hawksworth turning in 2 2/3 solid frames behind Lohse.
The Sunday night game featured the final regular-season meeting between two likely Hall of Fame managers, St. Louis' Tony La Russa and Atlanta's Bobby Cox. Cox has announced that he is retiring after the season. The night also saw Albert Pujols rack up his 38th multihomer game of his Major League career, breaking a Cardinals franchise record he had shared with Stan Musial.
More imminently, the win was a much-needed boost at the end of a difficult road trip. St. Louis finished a seven-game trek to Milwaukee and Atlanta with a 3-4 record, its playoff chances faint and flickering but not yet fully extinguished. The Cards pulled back within six games of the Reds in the National League Central with 21 games to play. They are in fourth place in the Wild Card standings, 5 1/2 games behind San Diego and San Francisco. The Braves fell one full game behind the Phillies in the NL East.
"I think Bobby would agree, what Albert accomplished dwarfs the two of us by a long, long way," La Russa said. "But it was special the whole time. [Cox] was over there and we actually acknowledged each other at the end of the game. It was tied for first with the neatest moment I've had in uniform. He is such a great competitor. To do that, his class is off the chart. I hope he gets to the postseason -- I hope they get to the postseason."
The Cards' own playoff hopes got a wee bit brighter on the day. Cincinnati lost to Pittsburgh earlier in the day, so with the Braves leading the Wild Card race, St. Louis gained ground in both races.
It did so with a team effort boosting Lohse, who was improved over his last start -- but certainly not yet all the way back to where he wants to be. Lohse allowed at least one baserunner in every inning. He was reached for four doubles among nine base hits. But unlike recent starts where troublesome innings spiraled out of control, he limited the damage Sunday. Atlanta hitters went 2-for-9 against Lohse with runners in scoring position.
And limiting the damage was enough on a night when the rest of the Redbirds played an exceptional game.
"It was a matter of executing better pitches," Lohse said. "Finishing innings off [where] I'm making a mistake with two outs and letting the inning keep going. I was able to do that a little bit better tonight. Still giving up hits, but minimizing the damage better tonight."
Pujols homered in the first to put the Cardinals ahead, and again in the fifth to start a four-run outburst, passing Musial in another category in the franchise's record book.
"It's pretty special to be named with that legend," Pujols said. "Most important is not just the man he was on the field, but the man that he [is] off the field. To take time off to serve his country, and to be able to come back and do what he did is just unbelievable. I thank God to allow me to have the opportunity to meet him and to talk to him and to read the history of what he did in this game. His personality is just unbelievable."
With his second home run, Pujols scored his 100th run of 2010, reaching that plateau for the ninth time in his career. He's the seventh player in Major League history with at least nine seasons of 30 home runs, 100 runs and 100 RBIs. If, as seems likely, he also finishes with a .300 or higher batting average, he'll be the fifth player in history with nine seasons hitting .300 with the 30/100/100 combination.
Pujols also made a fine play on a Martin Prado foul popup in the seventh. Brendan Ryan added a two-run triple and a single and helped turn a nifty fifth-inning double play that stemmed a potential rally. Then there's Colby Rasmus, who showed the full range of his talents -- and for whom Lohse might soon be buying a nice dinner.
Rasmus reached base on a strikeout and a wild pitch in the first. He singled in the third, and doubled in a run off of lefty reliever Michael Dunn in the sixth. He also made two big plays in the outfield, one of which recalled his predecessor, Jim Edmonds.
Leading off the fourth inning, Nate McLouth hit a deep drive to center. Rasmus tracked the ball, leapt at the perfect time and pulled down the ball, which was above the yellow line on the center-field wall. Three batters later, with a runner on second and two out, he chased down Hudson's deep drive to prevent at least one run from scoring.
"We couldn't hit the ball any harder tonight," Cox said. "Geez, to get three runs. It seemed like we scored six or seven, but we didn't. We swung the bats good. We were just inches away from doubles and homers."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less