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Cards hold their own in division despite loss
ST. LOUIS -- There was only one consolation for the Cardinals after Sterling Hitchcock got roughed up Thursday -- they didn't lose any more ground in the NL Central.
Hitchcock struggled for the first time since joining the team, surrendering four solo home runs in 3 1/3 innings in a 9-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
"It doesn't have to be much," Hitchcock said. "I just never got the ball down." Miguel Cairo hit a two-run homer for the Cardinals, who remained 2 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central when the first-place Astros and second-place Cubs both lost.
"That's not a plus," manager Tony La Russa said. "We got beat." The Cardinals had won five of their last six series after losing the first game, but also got blown out 8-1 in the series opener. They head to Houston for a three-game series against the Astros starting Friday.
"We'll talk about Houston tomorrow," La Russa snapped. "Right now we got beat in a series we couldn't afford to lose. We'll turn our attention to Houston when we get there."
The Rockies are an NL-worst 17-33 since the All-Star break and have won only two of their last 11 games. But they took two of three from St. Louis for only their fourth road series victory in 24 tries all year, and their first against a winning team since May 31 through June 2, 2002 at San Francisco.
Darren Oliver (11-11) allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings to end a personal five-game losing streak, winning for the first time since he beat the Reds on July 29. Oliver entered with a 6.07 ERA over his previous six outings.
The Rockies had 18 hits against six pitchers, with Ronnie Belliard and Chris Stynes getting three each.
"When you're in a situation like that, your team is basically going to be as good as the guy on the mound," Jay Payton said. "If the guy on the mound is getting hit around a little bit it makes it tough for the rest of the team to try to scrap and claw back." Belliard set the tone with a leadoff homer in the first off Hitchcock (2-1), who allowed only two runs in his first 19 innings after being traded from the New York Yankees to the Cardinals on Aug. 22.
Payton and September callup Kit Pellow connected on consecutive pitches in the third and Juan Uribe homered leading off the fourth.
Pellow added a two-run single in a three-run fourth against Hitchcock and Jason Simontacchi that made it 6-1.
"We know he can swing the bat, we just tried to find a spot for him to get his feet underneath him and get some swings," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He showed up in a big way offensively." Hitchcock gave up five runs on eight hits. In his first two starts with St. Louis he allowed one run on six hits in 13 innings.
Indifferent play by the Cardinals' defense handed the Rockies an insurance run in the sixth. Shortstop Edgar Renteria fielded Rene Reyes' two-out grounder behind second base but instead of trotting to tag the base for a forceout he waited to flip the ball to second baseman Fernando Vina -- whose back was turned to the base.
"That's bad managing," La Russa said sarcastically. "I'm supposed to teach them better than that." Belliard added an RBI single and Stynes had a run-scoring double off Mike DeJean in the seventh for a 9-2 lead.
Cairo's fifth homer came in the third and cut the Rockies' early lead to 3-2. Eduardo Perez had a pinch-hit RBI single in the seventh to chase Oliver, making it 9-3.