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Cubs can't contain Pujols, Cardinals

Cubs can't contain Pujols, Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs came close to finding out if Koyie Hill really could play third base.

Albert Pujols belted his eighth career grand slam to lead the Cardinals to an 8-2 victory on Saturday over the Cubs, who are trying to survive without two-thirds of the middle of their lineup.

"You can't make excuses over that," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "[Injuries] happen to any team. We certainly haven't done much offensively here in a while. It's got to get better."

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With Aramis Ramirez (calf) and Milton Bradley (groin) sidelined, Alfonso Soriano batted third for the second straight game and went 0-for-4, striking out three times and stranding three. He wasn't alone in leaving runners on. The Cubs are 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position in the past two games, and have totaled six runs in their past four games, all losses.

"This is not the way we want to play," Soriano said.

The Cubs almost needed an infielder when shortstop Ryan Theriot came up gingerly after being tagged on an inning-ending double play in the seventh. He twisted his left knee, but stayed in the game, saying he was more scared than anything.

"You play with bumps and bruises all the time," Theriot said.

The only extra infielder on the bench is first baseman Micah Hoffpauir. Hill, a third baseman in college who was converted to a catcher in 2000, had prepped by taking grounders in batting practice.

"I would think [pitcher Ted] Lilly would want to play short," Theriot said.

If Lilly could guarantee Piniella he could drive in runners, he'd be in there. Sean Marshall (0-1) took the loss, giving up three runs on six hits over six innings. It was the fifth straight quality start, but the Cubs' starters are 1-3 in that stretch.

"You almost have to get shutout pitching," Piniella said.

That's asking a lot.

"You give up two or three runs in six innings, you're doing your job," Piniella said. "You've given the team a chance to win."

The Cardinals scored all they needed in the fourth. With runners at first and third, Marshall caught Chris Duncan's liner, freezing the runners. But Khalil Greene hit a wind-aided RBI double off the left-center wall to take a 1-0 lead. Barden then lined a ball to left, driving in two, to go ahead, 3-0.

St. Louis loaded the bases against Rule 5 Draft pick David Patton in the seventh, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild went to the mound. In a perfect world, Patton would get Pujols to ground into a double play. But this is Pujols' world, with 46,707 -- the fourth-largest crowd at Busch Stadium -- cheering him on, and he launched the first pitch from the rookie 441 feet to left.

"I want to throw strikes and go after guys, and it just didn't happen today," said Patton, who had not pitched since April 16.

"You can't walk people in front of Pujols," Piniella said. "You might be able to do that in Modesto, but over here, I would suggest not."

Patton wasn't alone. Joey Gathright singled to lead off the seventh, but was picked off at first. That doesn't help the offense. Are the Cubs pressing? Theriot and Piniella discussed a hitter's approach with runners on before the game.

"It's got to be the same approach," Theriot said. "You can have a great game and hit the ball hard all game, and one at-bat, the pitcher may make a good pitch and then you can't drive runners in. My focus is the same with nobody on and with guys on. Hopefully it'll continue to happen and I'll continue to get more chances to drive guys in."

The goal, he said, is to make contact. Reed Johnson did just that in the fourth when the Cubs had two on and two outs, but he lined the ball right at Cardinals starter Mitchell Boggs.

"I couldn't have hit it any more perfect," Johnson said. "I had one last night when I reached out and flared it to center field. You feel like they don't even out."

This is an early gut-check time for the Cubs.

"The way things have been going, we'll see how tough this team is," Johnson said. "I like our chances of getting through the tough times. I don't see any reason why we can't. We have the right guys in place. We knew when this thing started that it wasn't going to be a smooth ride all the way through. Hopefully, we can build on this."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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