ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Right now, the St. Louis Cardinals' most
consistent pitcher is a 28-year-old rookie.
Jason Simontacchi kept his improbable run going, pitching into
the seventh inning and driving in a run for his fifth straight
victory as the Cardinals beat the Kansas City Royals 5-3 Saturday. ''I've been fortunate,'' Simontacchi said. ''I've been on a
roll, no doubt.'' Simontacchi (5-0) has a 2.45 ERA in seven starts for the
Cardinals. The right-hander, who didn't reach Triple-A until last
year and was pitching in Italy in 2000, gave up two runs and six
hits in 6 1-3 innings. He struck out three and walked none. Simontacchi also went 2-for-3 at the plate, and his RBI single
in the sixth gave the Cardinals a 4-1 lead. ''He fields his position well and he's very tough to run on,''
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ''And he handles the bat. But
mostly, he pitches.'' La Russa's only quibble was Simontacchi's decision to call off
catcher Mike Matheny and snare Neifi Perez's foul pop behind the
plate in the first. La Russa said Simontacchi would be fined. ''We've got two guys who can make that play, Gold Glovers,'' La
Russa said. ''But other than showing up our defense, what more can
you ask?'' He faced the Royals for the second straight outing, leaving with
a blister on his index finger after allowing two runs in five
innings and getting a no-decision June 9 in Kansas City. ''We stayed with pretty much the same game plan,'' Simontacchi
said. ''They threw a couple of different guys in there but all in
all I think we did all right.'' Carlos Beltran hit his 11th home run in the sixth, and Brent
Mayne chased Simontacchi, perhaps tired from running the bases,
with an RBI single in the seventh to cut it to 4-2. ''He was huffing and puffing for the next hour,'' Matheny said. Tino Martinez's RBI groundout in the seventh restored St. Louis'
three-run lead. The Cardinals have taken four of five this year from their
cross-state rivals, who beat them in the 1985 I-70 World Series.
The game drew a sellout crowd of 47,453 -- the second-largest of the
season. St. Louis pitchers had thrown 19 2-3 scoreless innings overall
before Beltran lined a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left-center with
two outs in the sixth. The Cardinals have won three of four overall, while the Royals
have dropped three straight. Kansas City is 5-11 since a
season-best four-game winning streak from May 25-28 and fell a
season-worst 15 games below .500 at 25-40. ''It's very tough for us right now,'' manager Tony Pena said.
''We really can't get anything going. Nothing is going right for
us.'' J.D. Drew hit an RBI double, and Albert Pujols followed with a
two-run double in the third against Jeff Suppan (5-6) for a 3-0
Cardinals lead. Suppan allowed an unearned run in the same inning
when he bobbled Placido Polanco's comebacker and threw late to
first to put two on with one out. Pujols, who went to high school and junior college in Kansas
City, is 15-for-30 (.500) with two homers and 10 RBI against the
Royals the last two seasons. Suppan lasted six innings, giving up three earned runs on nine
hits. He's 0-2 his last four starts, giving up 16 earned runs in 21
1-3 innings. ''It doesn't matter what league you're in, you have to stay out
of the big inning,'' Suppan said. ''We didn't do that and I
contributed to their big inning.'' Mike Timlin allowed a solo home run to Joe Randa in the ninth
before Dave Veres got two outs for his second save. Cardinals
closer Jason Isringhausen hasn't pitched since June 4 due to elbow
tightness but is expected to return soon.
Simontacchi, a 21st-round pick of the Royals in 1996 draft,
is the first Cardinals rookie starter to win his first five
decisions since Cuban defector Rene Arocha began 5-0 in 1993. ...
Fernando Vina, who was 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, leads the
Cardinals with 21 multihit games. ... Polanco has a nine-game
hitting streak but is only 10-for-35 during that stretch. ... The
Royals are 11-22 on the road.