ST. LOUIS -- This time, the walks weren't a problem for Braden Looper. But the hits just kept on coming. After saying he had made a mechanical fix in an effort to correct an uneven five-walk performance last Tuesday against Milwaukee, the Cardinals right-hander indeed kept the ball in play Sunday against the Giants. Problem was, the batted balls kept eluding St. Louis fielders. San Francisco, a club which entered the series finale ranked 14th among 16 National League teams in batting average at .234, strung together six consecutive hits off Looper in the third and used a six-run explosion as a springboard to an 8-2 victory at Busch Stadium.
By the time Looper departed, he had allowed 10 hits and seven earned runs in three innings, lifting his ERA from 2.70 to 5.49. Whatever that mechanical fix was, it's time for another trip to the pitching garage. "I didn't even give the team a chance today," Looper said. San Francisco's flurry of hits included both well-struck balls and seeing-eye rollers. With left-hander Jonathan Sanchez picking up where Tim Lincecum had left off Saturday in the zero runs department, the Cardinals (12-7) were left to contemplate their first two-game losing streak of the season. Sanchez left with a two-hit shutout through five innings. Looper had been solid in his opening three starts, the five walks against Milwaukee notwithstanding. But the inability to showcase damage-control pitching in the third made for an early blowout and forced manager Tony La Russa to go the long-relief route with Anthony Reyes and Ron Villone working three innings each behind Looper. Looper said he simply left too many pitches over the plate in the fateful third. "I basically stunk," Looper said. "Even when I made good pitches in that inning, the ground balls were finding a hole. I just have to go to Milwaukee, throw on the side and improve from there." Looper rejected the notion that he overcompensated following the five walks over five innings in his previous start. Catching too much of the plate Sunday resulted in a far worse outcome. "I didn't get strike one and it all starts from there," Looper said. The St. Louis crowd had to be content with basking in sunshine after the game got out of hand early. The third inning opened with singles by Fred Lewis and Jose Castillo. Ray Durham drove in one with a double and Bengie Molina doubled home two more. Pitching coach Dave Duncan paid Looper a visit during the uprising, but nothing helped the veteran right-hander. Aaron Rowand, a big pain for the Cards in this series, singled home a run to make it 4-0, and John Bowker put an exclamation point on the six-run inning with a two-run homer to right. For the second game in a row, the St. Louis offense was punchless when it counted, as Sanchez had the luxury of a big margin for error once he got the big early cushion. A two-run rally in the ninth, featuring RBI hits by Troy Glaus and Rico Washington, was just window dressing. "The six-run inning took a little starch out of us," La Russa said. "Their left-hander used a lot of pitches and was kind of erratic. If we had stayed close -- it's tough to fall that far down. Braden wasn't trying to do it. He just had a rough day." The Cardinals, losing their first series of the year, completed a 3-3 homestand which had started with so much promise. The Giants wound up winning the season series, 4-3, with their consecutive wins Saturday and Sunday. "Their staff is one of the best we're going to see all year," center fielder Skip Schumaker said. "Sometimes you just run into a couple of good pitchers and it happens that way. I don't think anybody is too worried. We're going to be fine."
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.