Cardinals 8, Devil Rays 5

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—The St. Louis Cardinals aren’t impressed with their steadily growing lead in the NL Central.

The defending National League champions increased their cushion over second-place Chicago to a season-high 9 1/2 games with Sunday’s 8-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but say it’s important to keep the club’s fastest start in more than 60 years in perspective.

“It’s a long season. You don’t look at the record, you don’t look at anything. You just look to go out there and play the game hard every day,” said Albert Pujols, who had three hits and two RBIs.

“When September comes, that’s when you start worrying about the record and see where you are. … Anything can happen. You don’t want to sit back and feel comfortable. You make sure you keep going.”

John Mabry drove in four runs and Jeff Suppan (6-6) allowed five runs and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings for his first win in 11 career starts against the Devil Rays, who have lost 16 of their last 20 games.

Mabry had a two-run double and drove in three runs off Doug Waechter (3-4), who allowed six runs and seven hits in four innings. He drove in a fourth run in the eighth when he drew a bases-loaded walk off Franklin Nunez.

Pujols added an RBI single in the second and a run-scoring single off Tim Corcoran that made it 7-1 in sixth.

Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen, who returned to the lineup Saturday night after missing 33 games with a shoulder injury, had the day off. Center fielder Jim Edmonds sat out his sixth straight game with a hairline fracture of the left middle rib.

“Edmonds is out. Rolen is out. Pujols says he isn’t feeling well,” Tampa Bay’s Travis Lee said. “I’m like wow, how do they play when they are locked in?”

The victory moved St. Louis manager Tony La Russa ahead of Bucky Harris for fourth on the career wins list with 2,158. The series sweep boosted the Cardinals’ NL-best record to 44-24, the club’s best start since 1944.

“The big thing to happen today, this is the first time we’ve been 20 (over .500). It’s a really good number for this part of the season,” La Russa said. “Now, we’ve just got to keep going.”

The Devil Rays (23-46) dropped to 3-12 in interleague play after going 15-3 against NL teams last season.

Suppan was 0-6 in 10 career appearances against Tampa Bay before Sunday. Four of those losses were at Tropicana Field.

The right-hander was much more effective this time, holding the Devil Rays to Jonny Gomes’ first-inning RBI single until the seventh, when Tampa Bay scored four times to get back into the game.

Suppan gave up a RBI single to Carl Crawford, then left after walking Jorge Cantu to load the bases with two outs in the seventh. Reliever Randy Flores gave up a bases-clearing double to Aubrey Huff, trimming St. Louis’ lead to 7-5.

Al Reyes finished the seventh, and Julian Tavarez and Ray King came out of the bullpen to turn back a Devil Rays threat in the eighth. Jason Isringhausen worked the ninth for his 21st save in 22 opportunities.

“It’s nice to come out of here with the sweep, and on a personal note beat them for the first time,” Suppan said. “It was one of those things that I couldn’t really describe or explain.”

The Cardinals scored their first run when Larry Walker hit a sharp grounder to Lee with the bases loaded and the first baseman’s throw for a force at home drew catcher Toby Hall off the plate.

The bad throw snapped Lee’s streak of 170 consecutive games without an error, eight shy of the AL record for first basemen.

Mabry had a RBI grounder in the first and added his two-run double off Waechter to make it 6-1 in the fourth.

“We competed against this team this weekend. We just fell short every game,” Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said.

Added Lee: “We’re competing, but not scoring. There’s a big difference. It’s hard. It’s really tough.”

Notes

Mike Hegan holds the AL record for consecutive errorless games by a first baseman at 178, set with Milwaukee and Oakland from 1970-73. Lee hadn’t committed an error since mishandling A.J. Pierzynski’s groundball against Minnesota on May 8, 2003. He handled 1,452 chances between errors. … Huff’s RBIs were his first since June 3, when he had a season-high four at Seattle.

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