ST. LOUIS -- Sometimes, once in a long while, everything adds up. A Cardinals team that has had to work hard for every win lately got to enjoy an unusually stress-free night on Friday. On a beautiful, cool night at Busch Stadium, the Redbirds cruised to a 6-1 win over the Rockies in the opener of the three-game series.
The Cardinals are now nine games over .500, equaling their post-All-Star break high-water mark. And they remain four games behind the first-place Brewers in the National League Central with 43 games left in the regular season.
They did it with a little bit of everything. Starter Kyle Lohse turned in a fine performance, the bullpen got eight uneventful outs and they played airtight defense. And an offense built to put up what manager Tony La Russa likes to call "crooked numbers" did just that in the sixth inning.
It centered on Lohse, though. A club that has searched for consistency in its starting pitching got a very positive indicator from a pitcher who hasn't been at his most effective lately.
"He made a lot of good pitches and he gave us what we needed," manager Tony La Russa said. "He got us into the seventh inning and allowed one run, and that's a piece of work against that team."
Lohse contributed his best start in six weeks, allowing fewer than two runs for the first time since June 28. He allayed some of the fears about his health, concerns which Lohse himself has consistently downplayed, by making it into the seventh inning for the first time since July 8.
A seven-day layoff appeared to work well for Lohse, who didn't allow a hit in his first turn through the Colorado order. A solo homer in the fourth got the Rockies on the board, but they couldn't capitalize after loading the bases later in that same inning. Lohse then sailed through his third time through the lineup, giving way to Jason Motte with one out in the seventh.
"I felt real comfortable," said Lohse, who explained that he made a slight adjustment to his arm slot, throwing from a lower angle. "I felt like except for that one changeup to [Carlos] Gonzalez, I felt like I made quite a few good pitches. I was moving the ball around and doing what I wanted to do."
The right-hander did get some help from his defense, including three line drives caught by second baseman Skip Schumaker. But it counted just the same, and was a needed turn in fortune for Lohse, who had a 5.87 ERA over his previous six starts.
"He just pitches," said Colorado second baseman Mark Ellis. "He doesn't have overwhelming stuff, but he's a veteran. He knows how to get guys out. I think we hit some balls hard but just didn't find any holes."
Still, through five innings, Lohse didn't have a lead. That changed with the big sixth.
With the score tied at one and Rockies starter Aaron Cook seemingly settled in, the Cards started their decisive rally somewhat innocuously. Rafael Furcal singled up the middle and Jon Jay singled to the right side. Albert Pujols hit a hard grounder that Ellis couldn't corral, and the ball skittered into right field for an RBI single to give the Cards the lead.
Matt Holliday made it four straight hits with an RBI double, and the Rockies chose to walk Lance Berkman. David Freese made them pay with a two-run single, though, and the Cards were in control. A sacrifice and a fielders choice brought the first two outs before Lohse singled to right to cap the five-run outburst.
"We had a good rally starter," Berkman said. "We had the first two guys on. And of course Albert gets a good hit. He smashed that ball and we were fortunate that Mark couldn't make the play on it. Then after that it was a couple fortuitous hops, but you've got to have that. That's the nature of the game, and we broke the game open."
It was more than enough for Lohse and the Redbirds' bullpen, who combined to quiet a Colorado team that has struggled to score runs away from Coors Field. Rockies hitters made a good bit of solid contact but had little to show for it.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.