Cubs take step to end Busch rut

Sunday, May 18, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- The pop was back in Mark Bellhorn's bat when it counted most for the Chicago Cubs.

Bellhorn hit his second homer of the season Saturday, connecting off Steve Kline leading off the ninth as the Cubs finished off a big day from starter Mark Prior with a 2-1 victory over the Cardinals.

"He was trying to throw me a strike because he didn't want to walk the leadoff hitter," said Bellhorn, mired in a 10-for-54 slump. "I hope I can feed off this tomorrow and maybe even for a couple of weeks and the rest of the year.

"I've been struggling, and once I come out of this I'll be fine."

The NL Central leaders have won six of seven. They also won for only the second time in 11 games the last two seasons at Busch Stadium, and for only the fourth time in 25 games there since 2000.

"I knew it was a bad number," manager Dusty Baker said. "It's a tough place to play and a tough place to win."

Bellhorn, pinch hitting for reliever Mike Remlinger, hit a 3-2 pitch from Kline (1-4) over the left-field wall for his second homer of the season and second career pinch homer. It was the first pinch homer by the Cubs this season and Bellhorn's first overall since April 15.

Bellhorn hit 27 homers last year, a franchise record for a switch hitter.

It was the latest shaky outing for Kline, who has a 4.67 ERA. Manager Tony La Russa has been trying to nurse Kline's confidence after the reliever ripped his own performances a few weeks ago in a postgame meltdown.

"It's the story of my life right now," Kline said. "I threw one bad pitch. It was down, but it just got too much of the plate."

Albert Pujols tied it with his 10th homer off Prior with one out in the eighth. All but one of Pujols' homers have come against right-handers.

Prior allowed a run on six hits with six strikeouts and two walks in 7 1-3 innings, lowering his NL-best ERA to 2.02, and also went 3-for-3. He singled in the third and fifth and doubled to start the seventh and scored on Moises Alou's two-out, ground-rule double to put the Cubs ahead 1-0.

On the year he's 9-for-26 at the plate with a home run, three doubles and five RBIs, and he's worked at least six innings in all nine of his starts.

"That guy can hit," Cardinals starter Brett Tomko said. "He hits just as well as anybody in the lineup. He's pretty much the complete package."

Remlinger (2-0) replaced Prior after Pujols' homer and struck out Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen to end the inning. Joe Borowski finished for his seventh save in nine chances.

The Cardinals put a runner on third with one out in the ninth but Borowski got Miguel Cairo to pop out to third and retired pinch-hitter Eduardo Perez on a fly to the warning track in right to end it.

Tomko lasted seven innings and gave up a run on nine hits with four strikeouts and three walks. The Cubs stranded two runners in the third and left the bases loaded in the fifth when Alou popped out to second for the final out, before breaking through.

Tomko figured before the game that there was little margin for error.

"The guy can pitch," Tomko said. "I don't know if it makes you lock in a little bit more knowing you have to not give them any breaks.

"It was a pretty good pitched game for him and I was all right."

The Cardinals left the bases loaded in the sixth as Edgar Renteria, who entered the game with an NL-leading .357 average, hit a broken-bat soft liner to short after Edmonds and Rolen drew two-out walks.

St. Louis has won only three of its last 11 games.

Notes: Prior had the first three-hit game by a Cubs pitcher since Jeremi Gonzalez on June 18, 1998, against the Phillies. ... The Cardinals' four Gold Glove winners, 2B Fernando Vina, 3B Scott Rolen, CF Jim Edmonds and C Mike Matheny, received their trophies in a pregame ceremony. ... Mark Grudzielanek is 8-for-17 for his career against Tomko after getting hits all three at-bats on Saturday. ... La Russa was ejected for the third time this season with one out in the bottom of the seventh, apparently for arguing about balls and strikes. ... Cubs CF Corey Patterson robbed J.D. Drew of extra bases with a diving catch at the warning track to start the eighth.

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