“I’m not trying to go out and strike out 10 guys, I’m not trying to put up a shutout every time,” Prior said. “My job is to keep them from scoring as many runs as we do, and that’s the bottom line.”
The Cubs won for only the third time in 14 games at Busch Stadium the last two seasons, and moved a half-game ahead of the Cardinals for second in the tight NL Central and a half-game behind Houston. It was the first of eight games in 11 days between the rivals.
Hitchcock followed Stephenson, who allowed six runs on five hits in three innings, to the mound. The Cardinals have told Hitchcock he’d make a start soon. In his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees on Friday he allowed one run on three hits in five innings.
“I just like him pitching,” manager Tony La Russa said. “He’s done a good job out of the bullpen and I’m sure he’d do a good job starting.”
Prior (13-5) has dominated in five starts since coming off the 15-day disabled list from a bruised shoulder on Aug. 4. During that time he’s 5-0 with two complete games and an 0.69 ERA (three earned runs in 39 innings), lowering his overall ERA to 2.47.
He beat the Cardinals for the first time in three career decisions, striking out six and walking one. St. Louis got only two baserunners in an inning once, and Prior retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced.
Not every St. Louis player was impressed, however.
“His fastball is pretty straight,” said leadoff hitter Kerry Robinson, who was 0-for-4. “It’s not like he dominated anyone out there. I know he didn’t dominate me.”
Albert Pujols hit his 35th home run in the sixth to snap an 0-for-13 slump at the end of his 30-game hitting streak for St. Louis. Pujols is 6-for-11 against Prior this year with three homers and three RBIs.
“It’s 7-0, I’m not going to mess around,” Prior said. “Obviously I wasn’t trying to throw it waist-high right down the middle, but I didn’t want to walk him again.”
The Cardinals were 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position, making them 1-for-19 the last two games. They beat the Phillies 3-0 Sunday with the help of two sacrifice flies.
The Cubs have added a lot of ex-Pirates recently, and Kenny Lofton, Simon and Ramirez combined for four hits and five RBIs. Ramon Martinez, a late lineup addition at second base due to Tony Womack’s elbow bruise, had two hits and two RBIs.
“That shows you the importance of making good trades,” manager Dusty Baker said. “They fit in right away, they’re contributing, and they want to win.”
Chicago bunched five of its hits in the third, batting around against Stephenson. Simon hit a three-run, opposite-field homer with two outs and Ramirez connected for his 20th homer on the next pitch. Earlier in the inning, Lofton had an opposite-field RBI double and Martinez followed with a run-scoring single.
The Cubs made it 7-0 in the fourth against Hitchcock on Paul Bako’s leadoff walk and a one-out RBI single by Martinez.
“We made it exciting like we usually do,” Baker said. “But that’s bigwhen you can have a big inning to start the series.”
Lofton is 7-for-14 against Stephenson for his career. … Simon is 10-for-27 with two homers and nine RBIs in eight games with the Cubs. He’s 9-for-20 against Stephenson with two homers and six RBIs. … The Cubs have hit back-to-back homers seven times this season, the last time on Aug. 7 at San Diego. … The Cardinals are 6-4 overall this year against the Cubs. …Hitchcock is 1-0 with a 1.15 ERA in two appearances for St. Louis.