ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A six-run inning was overkill for the Chicago
Cubs, considering Mark Prior was on the mound.
Prior allowed three hits in eight sharp innings, and Randall
Simon and Aramis Ramirez hit back-to-back home runs in the pivotal
third as the Cubs defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 7-4 Tuesday
night."I'm not trying to go out and strike out 10 guys, I'm not
trying to put up a shutout every time," Prior said. "My job is to
keep them from scoring as many runs as we do, and that's the bottom
line."The Cubs won for only the third time in 14 games at Busch
Stadium the last two seasons, and moved a half-game ahead of the
Cardinals for second in the tight NL Central and a half-game behind
Houston. It was the first of eight games in 11 days between the
rivals.Garrett Stephenson (7-13) got knocked out early, perhaps opening
the door for newly-acquired Sterling Hitchcock in the St. Louis
rotation.Hitchcock followed Stephenson, who allowed six runs on five hits
in three innings, to the mound. The Cardinals have told Hitchcock
he'd make a start soon. In his second appearance since being
acquired from the Yankees on Friday he allowed one run on three
hits in five innings."I just like him pitching," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's
done a good job out of the bullpen and I'm sure he'd do a good job
starting."Prior (13-5) has dominated in five starts since coming off the
15-day disabled list from a bruised shoulder on Aug. 4. During that
time he's 5-0 with two complete games and an 0.69 ERA (three earned
runs in 39 innings), lowering his overall ERA to 2.47.He beat the Cardinals for the first time in three career
decisions, striking out six and walking one. St. Louis got only two
baserunners in an inning once, and Prior retired 14 of the last 15
batters he faced.Not every St. Louis player was impressed, however."His fastball is pretty straight," said leadoff hitter Kerry
Robinson, who was 0-for-4. "It's not like he dominated anyone out
there. I know he didn't dominate me."Albert Pujols hit his 35th home run in the sixth to snap an
0-for-13 slump at the end of his 30-game hitting streak for St.
Louis. Pujols is 6-for-11 against Prior this year with three homers
and three RBI."It's 7-0, I'm not going to mess around," Prior said.
"Obviously I wasn't trying to throw it waist-high right down the
middle, but I didn't want to walk him again."The Cardinals were 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position,
making them 1-for-19 the last two games. They beat the Phillies 3-0
Sunday with the help of two sacrifice flies.The Cubs have added a lot of ex-Pirates recently, and Kenny
Lofton, Simon and Ramirez combined for four hits and five RBI.
Ramon Martinez, a late lineup addition at second base due to Tony
Womack's elbow bruise, had two hits and two RBI."That shows you the importance of making good trades," manager
Dusty Baker said. "They fit in right away, they're contributing,
and they want to win."Chicago bunched five of its hits in the third, batting around
against Stephenson. Simon hit a three-run, opposite-field homer
with two outs and Ramirez connected for his 20th homer on the next
pitch. Earlier in the inning, Lofton had an opposite-field RBI
double and Martinez followed with a run-scoring single.The Cubs made it 7-0 in the fourth against Hitchcock on Paul
Bako's leadoff walk and a one-out RBI single by Martinez.Jim Edmonds hit a two-run homer off Kyle Farnsworth in the
ninth, and Miguel Cairo added a sacrifice fly off Mike Remlinger."We made it exciting like we usually do," Baker said. "But
that's big when you can have a big inning to start the series."
Lofton is 7-for-14 against Stephenson for his career. ...
Simon is 10-for-27 with two homers and nine RBI in eight games
with the Cubs. He's 9-for-20 against Stephenson with two homers and
six RBI. ... The Cubs have hit back-to-back homers seven times
this season, the last time on Aug. 7 at San Diego. ... The
Cardinals are 6-4 overall this year against the Cubs. ... Hitchcock
is 1-0 with a 1.15 ERA in two appearances for St. Louis.