The Cardinals Major League Notebook 09/01

The Cardinals may be reaching their level after all. A three-game sweep at Houston has all but knocked them out of playoff contention, even though they still are a respectable 11 games over .500.

For the second time in three games, a strong starting performance was rubbed out by an inefficient offense. Right-hander Todd Wellemeyer, pitching one of his best games of the season, held the Astros to one run in seven innings but lost after right-hander Kyle Lohse's eight strong innings were wasted on Friday. Right-handed reliever Ryan Franklin took the Cardinals out of range by surrendering a long, two-run homer to Houston's Mr. August, left fielder Ty Wigginton, in the eighth inning. But an offense that consisted of nine singles -- and only nine singles -- wasn't enough anyway to prevent the Cardinals from being blanked for the second time in a week.

The Cardinals' best chance may have come in the first when left fielder Josh Phelps and first baseman Albert Pujols singled with one out. Right fielder Ryan Ludwick, who was 0-for-11 in the series, lofted a short fly ball to right, where right fielder Hunter Pence appeared to make a diving catch only to have the ball roll out of his glove. Pujols, caught between first and second, wasn't able to reverse field toward second fast enough to beat Pence's throw and was forced out. Instead of having the bases loaded and one out, the Cardinals had runners at first and third and two out. Then third baseman Troy Glaus, who was one for nine in the series, bounced out.

This was the first time the Cardinals, one of the majors' best road teams, had been swept in a road series this season and the first time in five series they had lost to Houston.

ASTROS 3, CARDINALS 0: The Cardinals finished their series at Houston having scored in only one of the final 17 innings as they lost for the third day in a row. A 0-for-7 performance with runners in scoring position doomed them Sunday.


--While his team is fading, 1B Albert Pujols is soaring. He finished the three-game series with seven hits in 14 at-bats.

--Manager Tony La Russa was dismissed for challenging home-plate umpire Mike Winters after Winters called Pujols and RF Ryan Ludwick out on strikes in succession in the sixth inning.

--LHP Randy Flores will be brought back from Class AAA Memphis to join the team in Arizona on Monday. C Mark Johnson and INF Brendan Ryan are slated to report on Tuesday from Memphis.

--Josh Phelps, normally a first baseman, made his first start for the Cardinals in the outfield. He singled in four at-bats and handled left field without too much difficulty.

--The Cardinals finished August at 13-13, their second straight non-winning month. They were 13-14 in July after going 18-11 in April, 15-13 in May and 15-12 in June.

BY THE NUMBERS: 96 -- Number of games pitched over two seasons by RHP Russ Springer before he suffered a loss on Aug. 29 at Houston.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's one pitch here or there that's costing me, costing the team." -- RHP Kyle Lohse, winless in five starts, after giving up a game-tying homer to Houston 2B David Newhan.

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