Cards erupt early at Coors, then pull away late

Cards erupt early at Coors, then pull away late

Cards erupt early at Coors, then pull away late
DENVER -- A Cardinals offense held at bay in the team's final two games in Chicago welcomed a move to hitter-friendly Coors Field on Tuesday. And on a night when Kyle Lohse battled through blunders made behind him, the offensive unit thrived in the high-altitude setting.

Piling runs on starter Jeff Francis early and tacking on key insurance later, the Cardinals bashed their way to an 11-6 victory over the Rockies in front of 31,297 fans, many of whom donned Cardinal red. With the win, the Cardinals wrapped up July with a 15-10 record.

"When we get into August, it's time to get going if we want to get to where we think we can," said Holliday, who had his second four-RBI game of the season. "If we want this to be a special season, we have to start winning a good bit."

The winning month was the team's first since a 14-8 April. Still, the Cardinals lost 3 1/2 games in the division race over the course of July. The first-place Reds closed the month with 11 wins in their final 12 games.

And yet, the settling of the bullpen, the continued consistency of the rotation and the potent potential of this offense push the Cardinals into August with a club seemingly capable of enjoying their own dominant streak. Taking advantage of three games against the now 37-64 Rockies seems an ideal place to start.

"We have to start tightening things up," Lohse said, "and start getting the job done."

The Cardinals jumped on Francis within minutes of his first pitch, offering a tease that they would be cruising to a win on this night. Four runs scored before the team's No. 5 hitter, David Freese, came to the plate.

Holliday, the former Rockies outfielder, drove home two with a double to center. Carlos Beltran followed with a two-run blast on the next pitch -- a hanging, 70-mph curveball. After going deep just twice in his first 78 at-bats of the month, Beltran has two homers in his last seven.

"When he's effective is when he's down in the strike zone," Beltran said of Francis. "Today was one of those days that everything he left in the middle of the plate and up in the strike zone. We took advantage of that."

Putting the four-run lead in the hands of their most consistent starter seemed a near certain formula for a series-opening victory by the Cards. Lohse took the mound riding a string of 10 straight quality starts. His season total of 16 ranked third-best in the league.

This night, though, wouldn't go so smoothly. And most of that was by no fault of Lohse.

Colorado sliced its deficit in half in the bottom of the first with RBI hits by Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer. The inning started with Holliday misplaying a fly ball in left.

The Cardinals picked those runs back up with two-out RBI singles by Allen Craig in the second and Jon Jay in the sixth.

But Josh Rutledge's three-run blast off Lohse in the sixth pulled the Rockies to within one. The home run came with two outs and after two potential outs not made. Skip Schumaker, starting at second base, got his glove on two grounders, but couldn't corral either.

Schumaker and shortstop Daniel Descalso had, earlier in the night, each committed an error.

"We had chances to get out of some innings and it just didn't work out," said Lohse, now 11-2. "I had to make a lot of tough pitches all night. For whatever reason, it was a tough night."

Consequently, Lohse's final line wasn't pretty. He was charged with five runs in a start for the first time since May after having limited opponents to nine earned runs in his other 34 1/3 July innings.

"We added pitches to him by some plays that didn't get made," manager Mike Matheny said. "For a pitcher to be able to sit in the same spot and not be able to let that affect him says a lot about him as a competitor."

As soon as the game got tight, the Cardinals' offense pulled back away. St. Louis pushed its lead to four with a pair of seventh-inning homers off Adam Ottavino, a right-hander the Rockies claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in April.

Holliday's two-run homer -- his 19th of the season -- was followed two batters later by Freese's solo shot.

"You have to stay on it here, especially on warm nights like this," Holliday said. "No lead is safe."

With Freese's homer, the Cardinals boast five players with at least 15 home runs. It marks just the eighth time in franchise history that five or more players have reached that mark in the same year.

Craig chopped a two-RBI single over a drawn-in infield to extend the lead even further in the eighth. Craig, who went just 1-for-11 during the team's series in Chicago, reached base in all five of his plate appearances on Tuesday.

The Cardinals finished with 15 hits for the the third time in the last 10 games.

"They're the best offensive club in the league," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "They keep coming at you."

The Cardinals are 4-1 against the Rockies this year.

"Especially these next 30 days, we need to just push and play the game and play it right," Matheny said. "If [the Reds] keep running like crazy, that's what they do. But there's going to be an opportunity, whether it's in this division or a Wild Card spot, if we push hard enough and play consistently. I see us doing it."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.