CHICAGO -- It was an awkward few seconds in the spider-infested crawl space of a hallway outside of the visitors' Eckstein-sized clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Joel Pineiro was briefing the media on his woeful start while his manager, Tony La Russa, snuck through the scrum and through the clubhouse door without a word. Not much needed to be said. Pineiro got rocked by the Cubs in a 12-3 loss Monday afternoon. It was the Cardinals' fourth straight loss on this road trip. Pineiro gave up five runs on six hits, five for extra bases, in the fourth inning.
"This was a bad game today," La Russa said. "We were close in Arizona, but this was one that was out of control early and it got ugly." The Cubs (73-70) now hold a three-game lead over the Cardinals (69-72) for second place in the National League Central; the Milwaukee Brewers had a half-game lead over the Cubs going into their game at Pittsburgh on Monday night. The Cards head to Cincinnati for a three-game series before returning home to face the Cubs in a four-game series that kicks off an 11-game homestand. Coming off a three-game sweep at Arizona, this makeup game of an Aug. 19 rainout was a good chance for the Cardinals to steal a game in the standings, but that idea was summarily soaked in the fourth. Pineiro's line in the inning read like this: home run, out, home run, single, double, double, double. La Russa's take was just as terse. "We made pitching mistakes, they capitalized," he said. When a reporter followed with "Pineiro ..." La Russa quickly repeated himself: "Too many pitching mistakes, they capitalized. That's what you've got to say about Pineiro and some of the other pitchers." Pineiro, 4-3 with a 4.79 ERA since coming over from Boston at the trade deadline, blamed it on location. "All of my pitches were up and they hit everything," he said. "Curveball, changeup, fastball, slider -- everything started being up in the zone. I couldn't make the adjustment to get the ball back down." The game was tied at 1 going into the fourth. Derrek Lee led off by hitting a hanging slider out to left and one out later, Ramirez sent a changeup to the bleachers in left-center. Mark DeRosa jumped on Pineiro's first pitch, singling to left and Jacque Jones ended a long at-bat with an RBI double to the wall in right-center. After that, pitching coach Dave Duncan came out to talk to Pineiro and Andy Cavazos began warming up. Jason Kendall and pitcher Ted Lilly followed with run-scoring doubles to opposite sides of the field and Pineiro's day was over. Cavazos got out of the inning with a double play. "Slider up to Lee, changeup up to Aramis and everything went downhill from there," said Pineiro, who gave up six runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings. Pineiro has until Saturday to figure out how to temper his pitches. He'll face the Cubs in one game of their doubleheader in the middle of a four-game series that could be the make-or-break point in the season for the Cardinals. "I let my teammates down; I let myself down," Pineiro said. "I've got to get ready to face this team over the weekend. I'll make some adjustments before my next start." The Cardinals face Lilly (15-7) again Saturday. The left-hander gave up three runs on five hits. The good news for the Cardinals is that four of those hits were for extra bases, including home runs by Jim Edmonds in the second and So Taguchi, a two-run shot, in the sixth. The bad news? Lilly had seven strikeouts (three against Rick Ankiel) and no walks. "He was pitching on the edges and all the edges were being called," La Russa said. David Eckstein, who had a double off Lilly, was a little more generous. The Cardinals have hit left-handers pretty well this season -- .274 going into the game -- and they knocked Lilly around on Aug. 20, scoring five runs in six innings. But Lilly was pretty crisp Monday, especially against a lineup hobbled by injuries. "Lilly's very deceptive out there," said Eckstein, who hit ninth for the sixth time this season. "He does a good job with that slow high-arcing delivery. All of a sudden he's working fastball in, cutter, his big curveball, even changeups." The Cardinals, already without Juan Encarnacion and Scott Rolen for the rest of the season, were also missing Chris Duncan, who was meeting with team doctors in St. Louis to determine the severity of his lower body injury, thought to be a sports hernia or "groin discomfort." They certainly missed his bat in the lineup. "The hits we've taken this year have been unbelievable," Eckstein said. "But this team is full of fighters and we'll be fighting." La Russa used four back-end relievers to finish the game. The last one, Mike Maroth, might've tethered himself to the bench by giving up four runs, only one earned, in the eighth. Maroth served up Ramirez's second homer of the day, let one run in on a wild pitch and gave up a two-run double to his former teammate with the Tigers, pinch-hitter Craig Monroe.
Jon Greenberg is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.