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STL@COL: Jay jolts a two-run home run in the first

DENVER -- It took the Cardinals nine pitches to forget their Saturday night debacle. That's how far Colorado's Jhoulys Chacin got into Sunday afternoon's game before he allowed a Jon Jay two-run home run, a shot that set the tone for St. Louis in a 4-3 win over the Rockies at Coors Field.

Jay's homer gave the Cardinals a lead before Chacin had recorded an out, and they added a third run before Kyle Lohse took the mound in the bottom of the first. Lohse and the St. Louis bullpen kept the Rockies at bay as the Cards closed out their fifth straight series win.

Colby Rasmus added a solo homer for the visitors, who went 6-3 on a three-city, three-time-zone road trip. The Cardinals showed no ill effects from a 15-4 beating the night before. They reach the one-third point of the season with a 32-22 record and a 2 1/2-game lead in the National League Central.

"It's more fun to be in first place," manager Tony La Russa said. "Opening Day [or any other time]. But it's four months to go."

Chacin has been at least arguably the Rockies' best starter in 2011, but the Cardinals solved him in the early going. Even after Jay's home run, Lance Berkman drew a one-out walk, and Colby Rasmus and Yadier Molina hit back-to-back two-out singles to bring home the third run. St. Louis didn't add much more after that, but it didn't need to.

"The way it started was pitches elevated in the strike zone," said Colorado manager Jim Tracy. "We saw what happened when you elevate pitches in the strike zone to this club in the game on Friday."

The Cardinals' bounce-back game was attributable partly to the early offense, but largely to Lohse, who made it five consecutive excellent starts. The right-hander, who had struggled in three previous starts at Coors Field, was at his efficient best over six-plus innings. He moved into a tie for the National League lead with his seventh win, and his 2.13 ERA ranks third in the league.

Lohse established his fastball early, then turned to his offspeed offerings on the second and third times through the batting order. He allowed two runs on six hits, striking out six with one walk. Lohse has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his past five starts and nine out of 10. He has only walked more than two batters once in 2011.

"It's where I feel I should be," he said. "The last couple years, I was throwing and hoping. Right now, I just feel like I've got a purpose with each pitch and I'm able to attack guys. The big thing is getting ahead and then you expand. My last couple years, I was just trying to throw a strike."

Though Lohse looked nearly untouchable for six innings, the seventh turned on him quickly. Three straight hits to open the inning cut the Cardinals' lead to two runs and chased Lohse in favor of Eduardo Sanchez.

The rookie made things interesting, walking Chris Iannetta to load the bases, but struck out the dangerous Jason Giambi for the critical first out. Eric Young Jr. lined into a double play, ending the inning and completing the escape.

Colorado once again brought the go-ahead run to the plate against Sanchez in the eighth, thanks to a single and a walk, but Fernando Salas escaped the jam by striking out Ty Wigginton on three straight sliders. Wigginton had been 3-for-3 before the strikeout.

Salas then issued a leadoff walk in the ninth, ratcheting up the degree of difficulty. He struck out the next two batters before yielding a pair of singles. That brought up the extremely dangerous Carlos Gonzalez. The Rockies' No. 3 hitter got a break when Daniel Descalso couldn't quite catch his foul popup, but grounded into a force on the next pitch.

"He made a really good pitch inside and I'm not expecting anything like that," Gonzalez said. "I was sitting on soft pitches, especially after he faced a couple guys throwing a lot of sliders."

Only three National League relievers have more saves without a blown save in 2011.

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