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Freese plates Holliday with a forceout

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals talked this week about strong starting pitching being the key to putting a win streak together and staying in contention. That didn't happen on Saturday.

Jaime Garcia was lifted after five rough innings and the Cards fell to the Rockies, 6-1, at Busch Stadium to end a two-game winning streak. The loss dropped the Redbirds five games behind the streaking Brewers in the National League Central.

Garcia did not have his best stuff and struggled with his command. The left-hander issued four walks, with all but one coming back to haunt him.

He walked two in a row in the third inning following a strikeout and was burned on a three-run home run from Carlos Gonzalez.

"Walks are always the worst thing you can do as a pitcher -- especially against their lineup -- and I paid the consequences," Garcia said. "It hurt me."

It was Gonzalez's second homer in as many nights for the Rockies and the first home run Garcia allowed to a left-handed batter since Philadelphia's Ryan Howard took him deep on July 21, 2010, at Busch.

Garcia entered the game having allowed just six extra-base hits to left-handed hitters this season, but all five runs Garcia allowed on Saturday came on extra-base hits to left-handers -- Gonzalez's homer and Todd Helton's two-run double in the fifth.

"It wasn't that way the first six weeks, but lately he's had a lot of trouble putting left-handers away," said manager Tony La Russa.

Garcia has gone five innings in each of his last three starts and has yet to figure out the Rockies. He's 0-2 with a 17.28 ERA against Colorado this year, but owns a 2.62 ERA in his other 23 starts on the season.

"He's not in a good place right now," La Russa said. "He's falling behind, he's not as crisp."

The Cardinals' vaunted offense, though, didn't offer much help for their struggling starter. Still, Garcia put the home team in a hole that was too big to climb out of on this night.

"It's a team game but when you get down with five runs like that early it's the starter's responsibility," La Russa said. "You can come back and win, but it's a tough way to come back. It's a concern about getting Jaime straight, getting him right."

Jason Hammel started for the Rockies and sailed through his first six frames before some turbulence in the seventh. The right-hander allowed one run on five hits in 6 1/3 innings and held down a Cardinals team that's scored the most runs in the NL.

Hammel turned in one of his best outings of the season after entering the game having allowed five or more earned runs in four of his last seven starts.

"I know that I can dominate," Hammel said. "The stuff is there. I think it's between the ears, figuring out what that next step is."

St. Louis finally had a chance to close the gap in the seventh, but the Rockies shut the door.

The Cardinals had runners on first in second with one out as Ryan Theriot stepped to the plate after the Rockies pulled Hammel. Theriot scorched a liner down the third-base line, but Colorado third baseman Chris Nelson dove to his right, snagged the ball and easily doubled up David Freese at second.

The Cards found holes in the Rockies' defense on Friday night during a five-run sixth inning, but the ball didn't bounce their way on Saturday.

"Yesterday we got some extra runs because our ground balls found holes," La Russa said. "Today we had a couple of line drives [for outs]. We probably did a little more than one run."

Marc Rzepczynski relieved Garcia and threw three scoreless innings. The southpaw looked good in his new role as the Cards' long man and turned in the longest relief outing of his career. Rzepczynski had been used as a specialist, but transitioned after the club acquired veteran lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes on Friday.

"He's the best equipped out there because he's got several pitches," La Russa said. "The downside is it means he's not going to pitch for a day or two. It would have been better if Jaime got us deep in the game."

Rzepczynski's outing confirmed why the Cardinals like him in a long-relief role -- he's able to retire both right-handers and left-handers. The former starter is comfortable pitching multiple innings and said it's a confidence boost knowing the manager has faith in him.

"I like coming in and having a chance to face righties," Rzepczynski said. "I know from my starting background I can do it. Going out there knowing that they have the faith in me to be able to face lefties and righties, and being able to prove it to them that I can do that."

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