Mark Mulder endured his worst start of the year, as St. Louis was throttled by the World Series champion White Sox, 20-6, at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday night. Mulder was pounded for nine runs on 10 hits in 2 1/3 innings, allowing base hits to the last seven hitters he faced. Chicago hung 11 runs on the Redbirds in the third inning.
It was the fifth consecutive subpar start for Mulder, who showed some progress five days earlier in Pittsburgh. He wasn't alone, though, as relievers Brad Thompson and Sidney Ponson were knocked around as well. Ponson, the club's fifth starter for the first 2 1/2 months of the year, was making his first relief appearance since being moved to the bullpen.
"It's safe to say that we're paying a lot of attention to it, as much attention as you can possibly pay," manager Tony La Russa said of Mulder's struggles. "And he's paying attention to it, working on different things. And going into this game today, he was working on making some progress. But the reality of today was, it's a day that he didn't have good stuff and had even worse location. So I almost couldn't get him out of there fast enough."
With little velocity and unable to get his pitches down in the strike zone, Mulder looked helpless in his third and final inning. White Sox hitters made hard contact early in the count, jumping on the left-hander's offerings for one hit after another. Chicago strung together seven straight base hits at one point, capped by Joe Crede's two-run homer that chased Mulder.
Over his last five starts, Mulder has seen his ERA skyrocket from 3.74 to 6.09. In that span, he's allowed 35 runs (32 earned) on 46 hits, including 10 home runs. His ERA over the course of the slump is 13.50, and he has lasted more than five innings only once in that time.
"Not making pitches," Mulder said "Before you know it, there were seven, eight, nine runs on the board in the blink of an eye. Just a whole bunch of pitches over the middle of the plate, and they were swinging at all of them and hitting all of them."
Mulder was charged with the first nine tallies of the third inning, and it didn't get much better when the struggling Thompson entered the contest. The second-year righty permitted four straight baserunners in the third and a two-run homer in the fourth.
Ponson tossed a quiet fifth but got into trouble in more ways than one in the sixth. After permitting four straight base hits to open the inning, he hit Brian Anderson and Pablo Ozuna with pitches, bringing in two runs and irritating the White Sox. Half an inning later, Chris Duncan was plunked.
"I pitched eight years in the American League, and I got beat like that in one inning or two innings before, and I never threw a ball at somebody on purpose," Ponson said.
"I'm not going to put my teammates in jeopardy of getting hurt. It looked like it was [intentional], but it wasn't. It was not intentional. Bases loaded, why wait until you've got bases loaded to hit somebody, or 0-2 and bases loaded to hit somebody. Of course those guys are going to be [irritated]."
Still, while Ponson was frustrated, the game was decided by the time he entered. A rotation that had shown signs of recovery from a group-wide funk got no help from its second starter. Mulder allowed a single and a ball to the wall in center field in the first and two more flyouts in the second before the wheels came off in the third.
The rally began with a pair of doubles before Ozuna flied out. From there, the next seven White Sox smacked base hits, with A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Crede going deep. Mulder departed in a 9-1 hole.
"If I knew how to fix it, I would have done that already," Mulder said. "I'm over it right now. They beat [us]. They beat [me]. I'm not going to sit here and worry about this right now. I'll come in here tomorrow and play some catch."
The 20 runs were the most allowed by the Cardinals since giving up 21 against the Giants at Candlestick Park on July 9, 1988. The last time St. Louis allowed 24 base hits was Aug. 3, 1961, against the Pirates.
If there was any consolation for the Redbirds, it's that every other team in the National League Central lost as well. St. Louis still leads Cincinnati by five games and Houston by seven.
"Somehow, that doesn't really make me feel any better," La Russa said.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.