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06/18/08 12:22 AM ET

Cards fall despite Pineiro's quality start

Right-hander holds the Royals to one run in seven innings

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals can win without Albert Pujols in the lineup, but the margin for error has become much slimmer with the superstar sidelined.

A single mistake by Ron Villone doomed the Redbirds to a 2-1 defeat against the Royals at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night. An exceptional outing by Joel Pineiro and a successful return to the mound from Jason Isringhausen were squandered as St. Louis could make no headway against Kyle Davies -- he of the lifetime 5.97 ERA entering the game.

Though the Cardinals erupted for 10 runs on June 6, the day Pujols was placed on the disabled list with a strained left calf, they've been largely quiet since. St. Louis has tallied 15 runs in the five games since Pujols' injury, and only 12 have been charged as earned runs to opposing pitchers. In four of the last five games, the Cards have scored three runs or fewer.

"Any time you don't have Albert in the lineup, that doesn't help," said Brendan Ryan, who went 0-for-4. "But we've won some games without him. Obviously we're better with him, so it will be nice to have him back, but collectively we'd like to swing the bat a lot better."

Moreover, the offense is scuffling despite facing a run of pitchers that can't be called particularly intimidating. Bronson Arroyo has been a fine pitcher, but is experiencing a down year. Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton are solid, but unspectacular. Brett Myers barely resembles the front-of-rotation starter he once was.

And on Tuesday it was Davies, who despite a 1.53 ERA on the year entered the game with more walks allowed than strikeouts. Davies was effective, but not brilliant, and the Cards were left wondering why they couldn't manage more against the 24-year-old right-hander.

"There really were no surprises," Ryan said. "We just didn't hit the ball tonight. ... It looked like he threw a lot of fastballs. I got a couple fastballs and I didn't do anything with them. I think we all might have gotten a couple pitches to hit, but he did what he was supposed to do and he got us out."

Some Cardinals, like Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick, have been hot, but several are slumping at an inopportune time. Rick Ankiel is 5-for-28 in the past week, Chris Duncan is 3-for-24 and Aaron Miles is 1-for-13.

"All the hitters, all the pitchers that go out there, defense, they want to be perfect," Pineiro said. "They want to be the one guy to have the big swing of the bat or make the great play. Today we got outplayed. It was a good game. There's nothing guys should keep their heads down [about]."

Pineiro turned in his best start since April 29, lasting seven innings for the third time this season. But he remained winless since that end-of-April game. Pineiro departed in a tie game, only to see Ron Villone permit Mike Aviles' solo homer. Villone left an offspeed pitch up and he paid the price.

"It was a changeup," Villone said. "It shouldn't be high. Changeups should be low. I was looking for a ground ball, and I hung a pitch. A guy took advantage of it and I lost the game."

Since May 10, Villone has allowed 17 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings, an 11.48 ERA. He has struck out 12 batters in that span, but also walked 12 and permitted 22 base hits.

Aside from Pineiro's return to form, the best news of the night for the Cardinals was Isringhausen. In his return from the disabled list following a hand injury and a crisis of confidence, he worked around an error in an effective ninth inning. He hit a batter, but otherwise got the job done.

"To go out there and throw out a zero, it just helps the team," Isringhausen said. "I gave us a shot to come back and that's better than what I had been doing. I just have to go out there next time, maybe tomorrow, and do it again."

Thanks to a Cubs loss to the Rays, St. Louis remains 3 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Central. The Cardinals lead the Marlins by three games and the Brewers by four in the NL Wild Card standings.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.