With a win Thursday, the Cubs would've pulled within one game of the Milwaukee Brewers, who lost, 6-5, to the Cincinnati Reds earlier in the day. Instead, the Brewers maintained a two-game lead in the National League Central. Thursday's was only the eighth loss in the last 29 games for the Cubs, who are 31-16 since June 3.
Jason Marquis (7-6) took the loss, serving up six runs, five hits and four walks over five innings. The right-hander has been charged with six runs in three of his last four starts. He's also lost each of his last four road starts, giving up 18 runs over 16 1/3 innings. Marquis came into the game 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA against the Cardinals.
What can the Cubs do to get the right-hander on track?
"We'll start him Tuesday against Philadelphia," Piniella said.
"I'll look back and see what went wrong and work on that," Marquis said. "I didn't make pitches when I needed to and I put myself behind the eight ball by walking a few guys and not getting outs when I needed to."
Braden Looper (8-8) picked up the win, although he did serve up Derrek Lee's ninth home run with one out in the sixth. It was Lee's first homer on the road, but not enough, as the Cardinals avoided being swept at home.
"They're the defending world champions," Piniella said. "You can't count them out."
Rolen hit his sixth home run with two outs in the Cardinals' fourth, connecting on the first pitch from Marquis.
St. Louis loaded the bases in the fifth when Aaron Miles singled, Looper walked, and one out later, Jim Edmonds walked. Marquis then plunked Pujols with a pitch to force in a run. Pujols was 0-for-10 in the series at that point. Duncan launched a 2-2 pitch into the Cardinals' bullpen beyond the right-field fence to go ahead, 6-0.
"The big walk was the one to the pitcher, Looper. Just let him bunt," Piniella said.
"That was a little frustrating," Marquis said. "I should've put myself in a better position to get out of that inning."
Ronny Cedeno came in defensively at third base, his first career appearance there, in the St. Louis sixth. The Cardinals had runners at first and second, and Looper attempted to bunt. He missed, but the infield had come in, and Yadier Molina, who was at second, stole third before scoring on Looper's single. Two batters later, Pujols notched his 23rd home run, hitting the first pitch he saw from Billy Petrick.
"He's a special player, everybody knows that," Marquis said of Pujols, who also hit an RBI single in the eighth. "Everybody goes through slumps. Players of that magnitude minimize how long they're in them. I've seen him for three years, and you all saw what he did tonight."
It was a night of strange firsts for the Cubs. Piniella pulled some of the regulars, and in the eighth, rookie Jake Fox was at first and backup catcher Koyie Hill was in right field. Yes, right field.
"We took everybody out just to give everybody a breather," Piniella said.
It was a surprise to Hill, who was searching for a first baseman's glove. He had pinch-hit in the eighth and thought he was going to sub at first. What was Hill thinking out there in right?
"It's a beautiful stadium," Hill said, smirking. "I know the score was what it was, but I was sitting out there with a grin on my face. I kept looking at Jacque [Jones in center]."
Had he ever played in the outfield?
"No. Not in college. Not in pro ball. Never," Hill said. "I thought he told me to go to first. I have played first before. I was looking for a first baseman's mitt, and everybody kept trying to hand me an outfielder's glove. They said, 'You're going to right field.' I said, 'Sweet. I can try to throw somebody out.'"
He didn't get a chance.
"Let's be honest -- Jacque played center and right and I was just in the way," Hill said.
When things are going good, it's easy to laugh.
There was a statistical downer. So Taguchi reached on an error by shortstop Ryan Theriot with one out in the St. Louis eighth and scored on Pujols' single. It was the first miscue by Theriot in 346 innings.
The Cubs couldn't work their two-out magic. They had runners at first and third with two outs in the fourth but Looper got Mike Fontenot to fly out. Jason Kendall doubled and advanced on a groundout with one out in the fifth, but Alfonso Soriano flied out to deep left. In the first two games of this series, the Cubs scored nine of their 11 runs with two outs.
"We won two out of three here," Piniella said. "Let's go to Cincinnati and try to do the same."