Cards finish off mistake-prone Nats after Pujols exits with calf tightness

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Given the forecast, the St. Louis Cardinals knew they might be in a race against time to play the necessary five innings for an official game. They only wish the grounds crew had been more cooperative.

The Cardinals' biggest hurdles Tuesday night were Mother Nature and the people working the tarp in a 6-1 victory over the Washington Nationals, whose comedic performance did little to provide any resistance to the visitors.

"I don't want to get down on the grounds crew," Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse said. "But maybe they could tighten up a little bit next time."

A four-run first-inning, highlighted by Yadier Molina's three-run homer, was all the Cardinals needed in a game with two rain delays totaling 2 hours, 40 minutes -- 13 minutes longer than the actual playing time. The first wait was 1:51, a bit too long for a Cardinals team sitting on a 4-0 lead in the top of the fourth.

"I was really concerned about the time of that first delay," manager Tony La Russa said, "from when it stopped raining, how long before the first pitch was thrown. That was excessive. I don't think the umpire was happy about that, either."

Eventually, the rain did subside, and the few hardy souls that remained got to see the Cardinals complete a successful start to a nine-game road trip. They also saw the worst hitting team in the majors accomplish something they hadn't done since Friday: score.

The Nationals' 22-inning drought, which included back-to-back shutout losses at Arizona, ended on Ryan Langerhans' RBI groundout in the bottom of the fifth.

"It still was a long night," Washington manager Manny Acta said. "It's even longer when you lose."

Lohse (6-2) returned after both delays, having kept warm by throwing in the tunnel, to pitch the required five innings for the victory. Lohse has won three straight starts, allowing only two runs over his last 17 innings.

"That should count for two or three wins for Lohse, what he had to go through," La Russa said.

The dark clouds began to gather even as Nationals starter Odalis Perez (2-5) began the game by hitting leadoff batter Brian Barton with a pitch, launching an inning of many misadventures. Two batters later, Perez fielded Albert Pujols' grounder and threw to second, where Felipe Lopez mishandled the ball for an error.

Then came Ryan Ludwick, who hit a routine one-hop single to left -- except that Langerhans let the ball bounce past him to the wall. Langerhans' only solace was a gift from the official scorer, who gave Ludwick a double and didn't charge an error.

Two batters later, Molina hit a first-pitch, three-run homer into the visitor's bullpen in left-center, making the score 4-0, but the comedy wasn't over. The next batter, Aaron Miles, reached base on a routine grounder to second after Lopez failed to play the ball aggressively, a play ruled an infield single.

"We had one ugly inning there," Acta said.

Perez was pulled after three innings, his shortest outing of the year, and the left-hander will miss his next start with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder.

The rain that had fallen much of the game became unbearable in the fourth, forcing the first delay. When play resumed, the Cardinals pulled off a double steal to take a 5-0 lead. During the rally, Pujols was hit in the left shoulder by a pitch and immediately left the game for a pinch runner, citing tightness in his left calf.

Then came another rain delay, this one interrupting the top of the fifth and lasting 49 minutes. Lohse returned again and helped his cause with an RBI single before allowing Washington's only run in the bottom of the fifth.

"That felt like a lot of work," Lohse said, "but it was worth it."

Game notes
Home plate umpire Dana DeMuth became an apparent victim of the wet conditions when he slipped and somersaulted while running to first base to make a call in the second inning. First base umpire Lance Barksdale had run into right field to make sure of a catch by Kory Casto, who then threw to first base to double off Cesar Izturis -- with DeMuth rising to his feet just in time to make the call. ... The assist was Casto's first of his major league career. Casto, recalled from Triple-A Columbus earlier in the day, also made the other putout of the inning on a fly ball. ... St. Louis right-hander Mark Worrell pitched a scoreless ninth inning in his major league debut. ... Todd Wellemeyer, who's scheduled to start on Wednesday was named the National League Pitcher of the Month. He was 4-0 with a 2.19 ERA.