ST. LOUIS — Mark Prior allowed three hits in eight sharp innings, and Randall Simon and Aramis Ramirez hit back-to-back home runs in a six-run third inning as the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-4 on Tuesday night.
The Cubs won for the third time in 14 games at Busch Stadium the past two seasons and moved a half-game ahead of the Cardinals for second in the NL Central. First-place Houston defeated Los Angeles 18-4 and is one-half game ahead of the Cubs. It was the first of eight games in 11 days between the rivals.
Garrett Stephenson (7-13) was knocked out early, perhaps opening the door for newly acquired Sterling Hitchcock in the St. Louis rotation.
Hitchcock followed Stephenson, who allowed six runs on five hits in three innings, to the mound. The Cardinals have told Hitchcock he will 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.
Prior (13-5) has dominated in five starts since coming off the 15-day disabled list from a bruised shoulder Aug. 4. During that time he is 5-0 with two complete games and an 0.69 earned run average (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 two base runners in an inning once, and Prior retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced.
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 home runs and three RBIs.
The Cardinals were 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position, making them 0-for-17 the past two games. They beat the Phillies 3-0 on 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 because of Tony Womack’s elbow bruise, had two hits and two RBIs.
Chicago bunched five of its hits in the third, batting around against Stephenson. Simon hit a three-run, opposite-field home run with two outs and Ramirez connected for his 20th home run on the next pitch.