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An all-around painful loss for Cubs
The Cubs lost a game to the St. Louis Cardinals, lost a chance to move into a tie for the National League Central Division lead and hope that they haven't lost center fielder Corey Patterson for an extended period.
Patterson left Sunday's game in the eighth inning after twisting his left knee beating out an infield single, and the extent of his injury hasn't been determined.
Meanwhile, the Cubs' condition degenerated further with the 4-1 loss to St. Louis in a game dragged out by a 52-minute rain delay in the bottom of the eighth inning.
It was a damaging loss, their second in the three-game series against the Cardinals, who lengthened their division lead to two games over both the Cubs and Houston Astros, losers of three straight in Pittsburgh.
"There are probably half a dozen of those [pivotal] games in a year," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "That's two games you don't have to make up with one less on the schedule. When you're playing head to head with these [division] guys, every game's a two-game ding."
It also was an ignominious outing for Mark Prior (8-4), who struck out 11 but gave up a three-run homer onto Waveland Avenue to Eduardo Perez after a Tino Martinez single and a walk to Orlando Palmeiro in the second inning.
"If the ball breaks two inches, I get Perez out," Prior said. "But it was straight and he hit it out. Overall, I guess I feel all right. They really didn't hit the ball that hard all day."
The Cardinals needed little else, with starter Woody Williams (11-3) justifying his All-Star selection by giving the crowd of 37,713 little to cheer about through his 72/3 innings. He allowed only six hits and one runner as far as third base, that in the sixth, the only inning the Cubs managed two hits against him.
Williams contributed a double in the fifth and scored the fourth St. Louis run on a single by Jim Edmonds.
"Woody has been good the past couple of seasons," Baker said. "He has been excellent. He throws strikes, he's a competitor, he fields his position very well, and you have to pitch him like he's a hitter. He helps himself with his aggressive baserunning. Woody's an athlete, not just a guy who goes out there and only pitches."
The Cubs had their best chance in the eighth when Moises Alou doubled with two outs, moved to third on Patterson's infield single and scored on a single by Eric Karros. But Jose Hernandez, representing the tying run, struck out to strand two of the nine runners the Cubs left on base.
"It drives you crazy a lot when you're not getting the two-out hit that could be the difference in the game," Baker said.
For the most part, Prior was excellent. The Cardinals managed just three fair-ball outs off Prior through five innings and no Cubs outfielder recorded a putout until the final out of the seventh.
But the balls that did leave the Cubs' infield did real damage; each of the Cardinals' first four hits figured in the scoring.