Cardinals cool off D-backs

Cardinals cool off D-backs

ST. LOUIS -- There may be quite a few general managers around Major League Baseball who are wondering now why they didn't pursue Kyle Lohse in a more aggressive manner last winter.

Lohse may not have been front and center on the free agent radar screen, but he has evolved into a key figure in helping the Cardinals keep their heads above the .500 mark in 2008. After being signed late in the offseason, Lohse has fortified a Cardinals pitching staff racked by injuries. The right-hander came up big again on Tuesday by pitching six innings and getting his 15th win in the Cards' 7-4 victory over Arizona at Busch Stadium.

Lohse was staked to a quick 4-0 lead in the first against Randy Johnson thanks to a run-scoring single by Albert Pujols and a three-run homer by Ryan Ludwick. Lohse allowed seven hits and three runs before turning things over to the St. Louis bullpen with a 5-3 lead.

"Everybody in here wants to finish strong," Lohse said. "After the last month that we've had, we don't want any doubts in anybody's minds that we're just going through the motions. I just wanted to go out there and give everything I've got for the last couple of starts."

Lohse set a career high with his 15th win and now has six quality starts in his last seven outings.

"I think I've had to be pretty consistent over the year to get to that number," Lohse said. "Hopefully, I can get one more."

The Cardinals are now 81-76 and no longer have the threat of a losing season hanging over them. But it was a bittersweet night in that New York's victory over Chicago officially eliminated St. Louis from playoff contention.

"I don't know if we ran out of gas or what," Lohse said. "We just couldn't catch a break coming down the stretch."

Lohse deflected questions about whether he thinks he'll be back for another year with the Cardinals. The interest level in his services figures to be significantly higher this winter.

"I've said all along this seems like a really good fit," Lohse said. "I like things here. We'll just see how it plays out."

The Cardinals no doubt drew some cheers in Dodger country as they were jumping on Johnson early. Arizona (79-78) is trying to catch the Dodgers for a National League West title, but had a nightmarish first inning and never really recovered.

After putting runners at first and third with nobody out in the first, the Diamondbacks saw Lohse get out of the inning unscathed. Then came the four-spot that the Cardinals quickly put on the board against Johnson, capped by Ludwick's 35th homer.

"The home runs are just a result of having a good strike zone and swinging at good pitches," Ludwick said. "I wasn't doing that for awhile and I feel like I'm starting to get back to that."

Johnson won't have any fond memories of his two appearances against the Cardinals in 2008. He allowed 10 runs over a combined 9 2/3 innings.

"Anytime you can put a crooked number up early in the game, especially against a guy who has 294 career victories, it's huge," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "But [Lohse] still had 24 outs to get. That was a big hit and Kyle was outstanding, as he has been all year."

The Diamondbacks hung around with a two-run homer by Chris Young in the fourth and a solo shot by Miguel Montero in the sixth. But the Cardinals came up with some tack-on runs and La Russa was able to mix and match with his bullpen quartet of Jason Motte, Ron Villone, Chris Perez and Ryan Franklin, who recorded his 16th save.

"I like this club a lot and I wanted us to have some results at the end," La Russa said. "We're not enough over .500 where we're celebrating, but we've competed."

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