Cardinals blanked in opener at Coors

Cardinals blanked in opener at Coors

DENVER -- Known as a long-ball hitter's haven, Coors Field can work its black magic on pitchers in a wide variety of ways.

Right-handed starter Anthony Reyes found out about some of its subtler challenges on Monday night in the Cardinals' 7-0 loss to the Rockies. Reyes was charged with six runs, a career-worst, and he did surrender a massive 447-foot homer to Garrett Atkins in the first inning. But much of the night featured the vast expanses of Coors' outfield turning unspectacular base hits into doubles and triples.

The cause and the aesthetics are all but irrelevant, of course, when a starter is charged with five extra-base hits in 5 1/3 frames. But in a fate that has befallen scads of pitchers over the years, Reyes deserved better -- if only slightly so.

"I don't really like pitching like that, but the mistakes that I made, they hit them," Reyes said. "Even good pitches that I made, some of the good pitches, they hit them, too. They just swung the bat well today.

"They hit the ball in the right spot today."

Unfortunately for the visiting Redbirds, the black magic did not go both ways. Left-hander Jeff Francis used a dazzling array of pitches to keep St. Louis hitters baffled, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning and never finding himself seriously threatened.

Francis allowed a grand total of two hits, two baserunners and three total bases on the night. He mixed a pair of fastballs, a changeup and a perplexing curveball to quiet a team that had been hitting well as of late.

"He hides the ball well," said Scott Rolen, who had one of several 0-for-3s in the Cardinals lineup. "I guess you could call him sneaky. More important, he threw all of his pitches for strikes tonight. He mixed the ball well. He threw his fastball, his breaking ball and his changeup for strikes."

The defeat ended a four-game winning streak for the Cardinals, and it was their first loss in their last seven road games. Second-place Cincinnati was idle on the night, leaving the margin between the top two teams in the National League Central at 4 1/2 games.

It was a night of plenty of streaks ending, actually. St. Louis had also won five straight against Colorado, and had hit a home run in a club-record 19 consecutive games. One number that didn't change was the Cards' tough run against left-handed starters. St. Louis is 16-22 against southpaw starting pitchers.

On Monday, though, Francis wasn't just any starting pitcher. He was brilliant.

"I think that's where you've got to start," said manager Tony La Russa. "You give him credit. He just worked us over. He probably doesn't even need to take a shower. I'm not sure he ever sweated. He just did a terrific job of pitching."

Reyes, meanwhile, earned points for battling, but he wasn't sharp for the fourth straight start. The 5 1/3 innings actually marked his longest outing since June 22. Since that game, a one-hit, one-run loss to the White Sox, his ERA has rocketed from 1.80 to 4.57.

He was vexed by leadoff extra-base hits in each of the first three innings, though they might not have all been big hits at other ballparks. Jamey Carroll's leadoff double in the first was something of a blooper that rolled. Clint Barmes tripled to center in the third, and he scored on second baseman Hector Luna's bounced relay throw to third base. Yorvit Torrealba's triple in the sixth inning was another that appeared to find a seam and just keep going.

A Todd Helton single in the third did no damage, but still presented an unusual sight -- Jim Edmonds actually playing too deep to get to a ball. Some of the knocks were crushed -- particularly Atkins' homer. But it's not too hard to imagine a friendlier fate for Reyes in a stadium with a less spacious outfield.

"Torrealba's ball scooted through," said Edmonds. "I didn't think it was hit that far. I don't know about the doubles. Helton's ball definitely wouldn't have fallen in if we weren't playing here. That can come into play."

Reyes, though, wanted none of that.

"It's tough, but it's part of the game," he said. "I've got to do a better job not giving those up. And I've got to do a better job of making sure they stay on base instead of scoring."

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