By Joe Strauss, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –
ST. LOUIS — Kyle Lohse, sinkerballer, offered the Cardinals a glimmer of hope Saturday night.
Matched against a team that tormented him during his formative years in the American League, a more mature Lohse answered with one of his two most compelling starts of the season as the Cardinals strong-armed a 2-0 win over the Cleveland Indians before a crowd of 41,694 at Busch Stadium.
Lohse (6-1) appeared Saturday missing a win since May 16 and with just two quality starts in his last seven outings. Working only with the safety net provided by Carlos Beltran’s bases-empty home run, Lohse asked his outfield for only three putouts while striking out four against two walks in 7 2/3 innings.
Lohse prevented a lefthanded-hitting lineup from advancing a runner to third base while clearing 100 pitches for the first time this season in 13 starts.
“We’re looking for something to get us going. I know I haven’t pitched up to my capability for a while now. It’s just getting back to what we were doing early in the season,” Lohse said.
For the first time since April, the pieces fit neatly for Lohse and his team. On the first pitch after manager Mike Matheny lifted him for reliever Marc Rzepczynski, catcher Yadier Molina threw out Indians shortstop Asdrubel Cabrera from his knees on a steal attempt to end the inning.
“That play might get overlooked some places, but not by us,” Matheny said.
Lohse stifled a team that reached him for 15 home runs and a 5.89 ERA in 23 previous appearances, including 17 starts, that covered only 96 innings.
Beltran contributed three of his team’s seven hits, including a third-inning home run that carried into the first row of center field bleachers. He later rifled a double to right field after shortstop Rafael Furcal’s sacrifice fly made it a two-run game. The blast gave Beltran a league-most 17 home runs and put him second with 45 RBIs. More significantly, it made the Cardinals 23-8 when scoring first, compared to 8-21 when having to come from behind.
“When we score early, we have a chance to win games,’ Beltran said. “It’s a relief for the pitchers when you score early.”
Notified of his start less than five minutes before first pitch when Matt Holliday experienced back spasms, center fielder Shane Robinson ignited the rally with a leadoff double. He advanced on a bunt and a fly ball.
“It’s a new experience for me trying to put together good at-bats and not being affected by the bad ones,” said Robinson, who struck out and flied out in his first two chances. “My at-bats got progressively better. I’m trying to stay levelheaded and improve with time.”
The game did not have a hit with runners in scoring position. Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson (2-6) almost matched Lohse with seven five-hit innings that combined six strikeouts with no walks.
Lohse learned how it felt to be jilted in his previous start June 4, when he exited a 2-1 game for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning against the New York Mets. The bullpen fumbled his lead before the offense responded to end a five-game losing streak.
“It’s the same game plan as I had last time,” said Lohse, who has surrendered five hits and one earned run in 13 innings in June. “The Mets were all lefty also. You’ve just go to trust your sinker and get it down in the zone. If you’re getting ground balls the way I was, the ball must have good downward movement.”
Saturday’s win was the Cardinals’ third consecutive quality start.
“Earlier in the season we were trying to one-up each other. We want to get back in the mode where we put it on the next guy to better you, do your job and get deep in the game,” Lohse said.
The low-score victory marked only the second time this season the Cardinals had won when scoring fewer than three runs. The first was April 17 in a 10-inning 2-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Molina thought Lohse’s outing second only to his opening day effort against the Miami Marlins.
“He’s been doing good all year long. He was great. He was throwing everything for strikes to both sides of the plate,” Molina said.
“I think he’s still taking that role we gave him opening day,” Matheny said.
Matheny didn’t stir his bullpen when Indians center fielder Michael Brantley opened the seventh inning with a single. But Matheny moved quickly in the eighth inning after Cabrera lined a two-out single off the right-field wall following right fielder Shin-soo Chin’s line out to third base. Rzepczynski threw one pitch before Jason Motte came on to record his 11th save via a perfect ninth inning.