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Redbirds fall out of first place after second straight loss
ST. LOUIS -- Kyle Lohse's first start in 85 days was a disaster. Same goes for the St. Louis Cardinals' weekend.
Derrek Lee homered his first two at-bats, helping the Chicago Cubs pummel a pitcher coming off forearm surgery and knock the Cardinals out of first place in the NL Central with a 9-7 victory Sunday.
"It's just playing good baseball against a good team," winning pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "When you come in here they're always exciting games.
"They're always a lot of fun and you've got to bear down and execute."
Dempster (11-8) won his third straight start for the Cubs, who have won only four of 18 but took two out of three against a team that had grabbed the division lead with a three-game sweep at Cincinnati. The Cubs won consecutive games for the first time since July 23 and 24 against the Cardinals at home.
"I have no complaints about how we played the series," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who returned to the dugout after a two-game suspension for his part in a fracas with the Reds. "It's not over. It's going to be a contest to the end."
Albert Pujols became the first player to hit 30 homers in his first 10 seasons when he belted a drive to straightaway center in the first. The St. Louis slugger has homered in seven of his last 13 games to give him 396 for his career, tied with Joe Carter for 50th place.
La Russa considers the home runs the "least remarkable" of the three milestones Pujols has achieved every season, behind streaks of .300 average and 100 RBIs every year.
"I don't know how long he has to play to be one of the greatest that's ever played this game," La Russa said. "But he's certainly going to be in the conversation."
The Cardinals are 10-5 against the Reds, back in the lead after beating Florida 2-0 on Sunday, but have struggled against the also-ran Cubs (4-5) and Astros (5-7). St. Louis is 48-25 when Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright or Jaime Garcia pitches, and 17-26 in other games.
Lee homered to straightaway center in the first and third against Lohse (1-5), making his first start after being activated from the 60-day disabled list. Some fans in the sellout crowd of 44,074 that featured a healthy Cubs contingent booed Lohse, who allowed seven runs to hike his ERA to 6.89, as the right-hander trudged to the dugout.
"We're in a results-oriented business here," Lohse said. "I went out and pitched. Positive. I gave up a lot of runs. Negative."
Lee, batting .429 (9 for 21) with two homers and five RBIs against Lohse, left after four innings. The team announced he'd experienced lower back stiffness, but Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Lee got a rest because Chicago was ahead 8-1.
Lee has 16 homers after hitting four solo shots in the series, connecting in each game.
The first five Cubs reached safely to start a six-run fourth that chased Lohse, including a two-run double by Koyie Hill and an RBI single from Dempster. Marlon Byrd had two singles and an RBI in an inning that matched the Cubs' season bests for runs and hits (six).
The Cubs were patient at the plate in the fourth, swinging at only two of the last 23 pitches from Mike MacDougal.
Dempster allowed two runs and five hits in 6 2/3 innings. He has won three straight starts for the first time since Aug. 10 to 23, 2008.
Pujols is heating up in August once again. It's traditionally his best month, with career totals of 76 homers, 342 hits and 220 runs. He also is batting .319 (15 for 47) against Dempster with six homers and 12 RBIs.
The Cardinals scored five times in the ninth to make it interesting, starting with rookie Steven Hill's first career homer and ending with Hill's game-ending groundout against Carlos Marmol with two men aboard. Pinch-hitter Felipe Lopez, who had been in a 2-for-32 slump, delivered a two-run single.
Marmol earned his 21st save in 25 chances.
"It's in the win column, that's all I know," Piniella said. "Nice comfortable lead going into the ninth."
* The Cardinals were 1 for 14 with runners on base the first eight innings.
* Lohse hasn't beaten the Cubs since April 15, 2007, when he was with the Reds.