The Cardinals' 6-5 win over Houston on Wednesday night never should have been that close.
The St. Louis bullpen, both old and young, staggered down the stretch. The late-inning problems threatened to overcome another brilliant outing by right-hander Kyle Lohse.
After spinning a two-hit shutout against Washington in his last start, Lohse blanked Houston on four hits for seven innings and left with a 6-0 lead.
Not only has Lohse given up just 22 hits in 38 1/3 innings, but he has walked just five while striking out 24. Of the seven runs he has allowed, four of them came in one inning in his first start of the season.
On Wednesday, Lohse (4-1) showed an excellent changeup, and though not necessarily considered a sinkerball pitcher, he kept the ball down enough to record 12 of his 21 outs on groundballs.
Lohse, who said he was fighting a cold, said he didn't have his usual command, citing his walking opposing pitcher J.A. Happ.
"That's not what you want to do, even if is hitting .500 (.571)," Lohse said. "I got away with it.
"It felt I was more behind in the count than I have been."
However, Lohse did throw 19 first-pitch strikes to the 25 hitters he faced.
The Cardinals' offense was resourceful enough to overcome hitting into five double plays. Especially significant were four two-out singles, by Nick Punto, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, each good for a run in the seventh, which seemed to put the game away.
"Any time you've got a chance to keep piling on, you've got to do it," Berkman said. "We scored just enough to win."
Holliday, who was 3-for-4 on the season when he went out with an appendectomy, seems to be hitting about as much since he came back. Holliday, also battling a cold, was 3-for-4 with a home run and is 24-for-59 (.407) since returning.
With right-hander Mitchell Boggs, the closer of the moment, getting a night off because he had endured a long inning in blowing a save Tuesday, manager Tony La Russa went through four pitchers in the final two innings after determining he should replace Lohse. La Russa said Lohse was getting the ball up in the seventh inning.
Rookie right-hander Eduardo Sanchez got his first major league save. Though he allowed his first two runs in seven appearances, Sanchez got the final out by fanning Hunter Pence on a much better breaking ball than he had thrown earlier in the inning.
"He made a great pitch to get Pence out," said La Russa, who admitted he and pitching coach Dave Duncan were still looking to "get the bullpen right" after veteran right-hander Ryan Franklin was stripped of his closer's job.
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