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Cardinals' Eldred makes first start since 2001; Cards win

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Jim Bowden strode into the Washington
Nationals clubhouse, the door slamming shut behind him.

The general manager had just finished watching his team get shut
out for the second straight game against a surprise starter, and
his defense and pitching weren't exactly stellar, either, in
Sunday's 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Several minutes later, on a ramp below the stands at RFK
Stadium, Bowden described himself as "angry, frustrated,
disappointed" and ripped his team's performance.

"It was pathetic," the GM said. "We gave them this game
today. This is embarrassing. We gave them those runs."

Turning his attention to the hitters, scoreless over 21 innings,
Bowden said: "This isn't a problem of one guy or two guys. We have
an embarrassing problem of all eight. Zero offense."

Washington didn't face Chris Carpenter. It didn't even face Mark
Mulder, the 15-game winner scratched Saturday and Sunday with a
stiff neck.

Instead, it was Cal Eldred who made his first start since 2001
on Sunday and combined with four St. Louis relievers to limit the
Nationals to four singles. Washington scraped out two singles in
Saturday's 6-0 defeat against Jason Marquis, who stopped a
seven-start losing streak with the first shutout of his career.

"You shouldn't play like this at home. It's not acceptable,"
manager Frank Robinson said.

Washington went 2-4 on this homestand, also losing to
.500-or-worse starters Luke Hudson and Brandon Claussen of
Cincinnati.

"We all stink," cleanup hitter Jose Guillen said. "We're just
looking like Little League players."

How out of sorts are the Nationals at the plate? Guillen decided
on his own to try a bunt with runners on first and second and no
outs in the fourth inning.

"Trying to make something happen," he said, "and it didn't
work out the way I wanted."

His bunt went to reliever Brad Thompson (2-0), who got the
forceout at second. The next batter -- Preston Wilson -- grounded
into an inning-ending double play.

"We need to not do those types of things," Brad Wilkerson
said. "When you've got your best hitter at the plate, and you're
struggling to score some runs, we need him swinging the bat."

The major league-best Cardinals, meanwhile, managed to score
plenty even though Albert Pujols was ejected in the first inning,
and Jim Edmonds left after a collision at the plate in the sixth.

"I always say you don't just win with homers. You need a bunt,
you need a hit-and-run, you need a steal," manager Tony La Russa
said. "Those are the little things that helped us out to win 105
games last year and those are the things that are helping us out
this year to win some games."

Washington's own spot starter, John Halama (0-1), turned in five
strong innings. But in the sixth, the Cardinals scored three runs
despite only one solidly hit ball. An error, two walks, a double
steal and a couple of close plays did the rest. They added three in
the eighth.

The key play in the sixth came with Edmonds on third, and the
slower Yadier Molina on first. With So Taguchi up, the Cardinals
put on a double steal. Backup catcher Gary Bennett's throw to
second was cut off by backup second baseman Jamey Carroll. But his
throw home was up the third-base line as Edmonds barreled into
Bennett, and Carroll was charged with an error.

"In that situation, I've just got to realize what's going on
there and not make the throw," Bennett said. "Those are the kind
of mistakes we can't afford to make."

Taguchi hit a comebacker, but the ball ricocheted away from
reliever Hector Carrasco, and his throw to first was too late. The
unearned run made it 3-0, drawing boos from the announced crowd of
41,130.

The Nationals have the worst offense in baseball, last in nearly
every major category, including runs and batting average. That's
why they've been losing despite strong pitching and being on pace
to set franchise records for fewest errors and fewest unearned runs
allowed in a season.

After leading the NL East by 5½ games on July 3, Washington has
dropped to last place, seven games behind Atlanta heading into a
four-game series at the Braves.

"It's either put up or shut up now," Wilkerson said. "I hope
guys aren't giving up."

Bowden issued a challenge to his players, noting that rosters
can be expanded Thursday.

"They all know by the last game in Atlanta there's going to be
enough choices for Frank that he doesn't have to play any of them
if he doesn't want to," Bowden said.

"Be a man, wake up and do some damage or guess what? After
that, Frank can do whatever he can do. By the time it gets to
Thursday, they're not hitting, he might as well put other people in
there. There's a lot of guys who can score no runs a game."

Game notes
Cardinals SS David Eckstein hit two doubles and scored
twice. ... Pujols was ejected after he was caught stealing. ...
Edmonds banged his right knee against one of Bennett's shin guards
but expects to play Monday at Florida.