08/05/09 5:14 PM ET
Lohse struggles as Cards split with Mets
Starter departs in third; Pujols remains hot with two doubles
By Brittany Ghiroli / Special to MLB.com
Instead, La Russa, who half-joked that he was excited about the milestone until he realized it came with 1,000-plus losses, had an easy solution for overlooking Tuesday's lineup sheet.
"I'll keep [Wednesday's]," he said prior to the Cards-Mets matinee. "This will be a good one for us."
But after his team's lackluster 9-0 loss to the Mets, it's unlikely La Russa will want any mementos of Wednesday's contest at Citi Field.
Anyone not named Albert Pujols, who doubled twice and reached base three times, looked downright baffled in the batter's box, as St. Louis mustered just four hits from the rest of its lineup, two of which were from bench player Joe Thurston.
Even an early exit from New York starter Jonathon Niese, who left the game after 2 1/3 innings due to a right hamstring strain, was more a hindrance than a help. Niese's replacement, Nelson Figueroa, retired pitching foe Kyle Lohse with two outs and two men aboard and went on to hold the Cards to four hits over 4 1/3 frames.
"[Figueroa] really picked them up," La Russa said. "That was a tough break ... the club behind him got ready to play, and then they got a clutch performance."
The Cardinals' best chance to score against Figueroa came in the fifth inning, when red-hot Julio Lugo laced a one-out double into left field, moving Thurston, who had singled to open the frame, over to third. After Mark DeRosa hit a shallow fly, Pujols was hit with an up-and-in pitch that caught his right elbow, loading the bases for Matt Holliday. But the cleanup hitter went down swinging on a 2-2 four-seamer, slamming his bat into the dirt in frustration.
"We had our chances, obviously, and they got out of the inning and made some good pitches when they need to," said Pujols, who dismissed any concerns about his elbow and the intention of Figueroa's pitch.
"I didn't doubt that we were going to score some [runs] in probably four of the first five innings, but they made some good pitches to get out of the jam."
Lohse wasn't nearly as effective. The right-hander turned in his worst outing since returning from the disabled list with a right forearm strain on July 12, allowing five runs on seven hits over 2 2/3 innings.
While attesting he entered the game feeling fine physically, Lohse was shaken up during a play at the plate in the second inning, while putting the tag on a sliding Jeff Francoeur.
"[Francoeur] got me in the jaw pretty good," Lohse said. "And it was hot, and to get hit in the face like that, [I got] kind of fuzzy for a second."
While the veteran right-hander clearly didn't want to make any excuses for his dismal start, Lohse's neck stiffened up on the play and he never recovered. He didn't make it out of the third inning, exiting after issuing a pair of two-out walks to load the bases and marking his shortest stint since pitching two-plus innings through forearm stiffness on June 3.
The afternoon just got more physical from there, as Figueroa hit Ryan Ludwick in the fourth inning and Pujols was plunked one inning later. While La Russa told reporters he didn't believe either was intentional, the Cardinals skipper was peeved at Brad Thompson's up-and-in pitch in the sixth inning, which narrowly missed David Wright's head and earned Thompson a warning from home-plate umpire Bill Miller.
"Wright was killing us at the plate," La Russa said. "We were trying to get the ball in, but you can't get a ball up that high. I mean, I don't blame the umpire [for the warning]. That was terrible."
La Russa, who came onto the field and spoke with Miller briefly following the play, said he was "not happy with Thompson" for the throw. And he certainly wasn't the only one, as the majority of the Mets' clubhouse felt the pitch was intentional.
"I thought it was bush league," Francoeur said. "You don't throw at a guy's head. Hit him in the back."
Wright agreed: "You don't want to see anybody get hit in the head, whether or not he's trying to. If you're going to go after somebody, go for the back. Do it the right way."
Unfortunately for the Cards, there wasn't much right about Wednesday's loss and the strange events that went with it.
"You get into a game against the bullpens, they come in and don't allow any runs, and our bullpen, who's rested, gives up a bunch," said Trever Miller, who was tagged for a run in the ninth. "That's why you never can understand this game fully. Just when you think you've seen it all, you get something to shake your head at."
With the loss, the Cardinals -- who entered the day tied for the National League Central lead -- miss a chance to gain ground on the Cubs, who are scheduled to play Wednesday night.
Brittany Ghiroli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.