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Cardinals drop finale to Rockies, 8-2

By Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

DENVER — What could have been a road trip that propelled the winning ways of the team the Cardinals believe they can be instead reinforced many of issues that have made them the inconsistent club that they are.

Their two-city tour was a series of missed opportunities.

Rockies rookie Josh Rutledge hit his fourth home run in as many days and Tyler Colvin broke a tie with a seventh-inning double as Colorado took an 8-2 victory from the Cardinals on Thursday at Coors Field. The Cardinals return home having squandered a six-game journey to Chicago and Colorado, two National League cities with clubs that entered play Thursday a combined 45 games below .500. Thursday’s loss kept the Cardinals from a sweep of the Rockies and left them with a 3-3 record on the trip.

“Not good enough,” outfielder Matt Holliday said. “Three-and-three against two teams that are both under .500 is not going to cut it.”

Manager Mike Matheny was just as blunt.

“It’s not exactly what you’re looking for when you’re trying to gain ground,” he said.

The Cardinals return home to Busch Stadium for a weekend series against Milwaukee trailing first-place Cincinnati by eight games. Sixteen of the Cardinals’ next 19 games are at home, but that is not the biggest number that greets them in St. Louis Friday. Three regulars are scheduled to visit with the team physicians Friday to have various injuries examined. Yadier Molina will have X-rays on his discolored, swollen and sprained right thumb. Shortstop Rafael Furcal is looking for clearance after missing five consecutive games with back discomfort. And Lance Berkman’s right knee buckled on him late in Thursday’s game.

The switch-hitting Berkman made his first start of the series and contributed a 0-for-4 to the middle of the Cardinals order that went 1-for-16. He had experienced weakness in his surgically repaired knee several times during the road trip and didn’t expect Thursday to lead to anything serious.

“It’s just not a perfect knee,” he said. “I’ve had problems with it before. I had surgery on it this year. I’ve been scanned and zapped more than most players, particularly in that region of the body. Life with a balky knee is sometimes it feels OK, sometimes it doesn’t.”

In two of the Cardinals’ three losses, they had a lead and couldn’t hold it. That was true again Thursday as familiar issues sabotaged them. The Cardinals had several opportunities to crack starter Alex White, but failed often in situational hitting. In the third inning a leadoff double and a runner at third with less than two outs failed to materialize a run. When the Cardinals did grab a 2-1 lead on Jon Jay’s triple and scored in the sixth inning, they hit a recurring pitfall.

Once again the game tilted in the seventh inning.

A night after new addition Edward Mujica made swift work of the nettlesome seventh with a one-run lead, Fernando Salas entered to take the inning in a tie game. The Rockies thumped him for three runs. Colvin broke the tie with a one-out double, and Rutledge put the game away with his third homer in as many games against the Cardinals. He is the first Rockie rookie with a homer in four consecutive games. Matheny conceded that he considered not having Salas, who has been inconsistent this season, in there to face him, calling Salas a “fly ball pitcher that doesn’t play into the hand here” at altitude.

Matheny also acknowledged he considered going to a lefty against Colvin. Lefties have hit .317 against Salas this season. Colvin has a lower on-base and slugging percentage against lefties. He reached Salas (1-4) for the tie-breaking double, his fourth extra-base hit in two days against the Cardinals.

Matheny was asked if three lefties in the bullpen allowed for that one-hitter appearance.

“I suppose it could, yeah,” he said, tersely. “Before we made the move to get Mujica, Salas was our guy for the seventh inning. We could have burned through five pitchers if we wanted to (in that inning), but we have faith in the guy who can get the job done.”

The Rockies added to their lead with three runs in the eighth inning, including a pinch-hit homer from Wilin Rosario.

A curious thing happened thing before the late-game outbreak by the Rockies and after two consecutive nights of the offensive tug-o-wars that have become common again at Coors Field.

A pitching duel developed.

The Rockies promoted righty White from Class AAA for his first start in the majors since June 24. White, the 15th overall selection in the 2009 draft, had allowed one run in his previous 15 innings for the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate. He was the first starter in the series to keep the Cardinals scoreless in the first inning. After a leadoff double in the third inning by Tony Cruz, White got groundball outs from the next nine batters.

Seeking his 14th win of the season, Lance Lynn took the scenic route to a scoreless tie through three innings. Lynn had to pitch around a leadoff double in the first inning. The first two batters of the second inning reached base. Neither time did the Rockies score. That came in the fourth inning when back-to-back doubles by Carlos Gonzalez and Jordan Pacheco produced the game’s first run and a 1-0 lead for the Rockies.

Lynn took a 2-1 lead into the sixth and allowed the tying run on a sacrifice fly. Twice backup catcher Cruz interrupted innings, like that one, by catching a Rockie trying to steal.

“You’re going to give up hits here; you just can’t give up the big hits,” Lynn said. “We got the lead and I gave it right back. “ … We’ve been on a pretty good run. The teams we’re chasing have just been on a little better run.”

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