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Lohse sparkles as Cardinals drop Pirates 5-1

Kyle Lohse scattered six hits while pitching into the eighth inning to lead the St. Louis Cardinals past the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-1 on Sunday.

David Freese had a two-run single for the Cardinals and Rafael Furcal had three hits as St. Louis extended its strong start behind another superb outing from Lohse (3-0).

The veteran right-hander struck out five without issuing a walk, though his ERA actually ticked up from 0.89 to 0.99.

Pittsburgh's Erik Bedard (0-4) gave up three runs on six hits, walking four and striking out seven in seven innings but was again undone by a lack of support.

The Pirates have scored three runs combined in Bedard's four starts.

Lohse improved to 8-2 in his career against the Pirates, having his way with baseball's worst offense. His only mistake came in the eighth, when Mike McKenry led off with a double and scored on Casey McGehee's pinch-hit single to trim St. Louis' lead to 3-1.

Mitchell Boggs came on in relief and quickly shut the door. Nate McLouth flied to left and Boggs held onto Jose Tabata's sharp grounder back to the mound to start an inning-ending double play.

The Cardinals tacked on two runs in the ninth off Evan Meek for the final margin.

Bedard, as he has in each of his starts, kept the Pirates in it despite a problematic first inning in which the Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs, just as they did against A.J. Burnett on Saturday night.

Burnett, however, settled down and escaped the inning unscathed. Bedard wasn't quite so fortunate, giving up a run when Carlos Beltran hit into a double play.

St. Louis made it 3-0 in the third when Furcal led off with a double and Tyler Greene walked. Bedard managed to get through Matt Holliday and Beltran and came within a strike of getting out of the jam before Freese lined a sharp single to right.

Bedard didn't give up another hit over his final four innings, but once again it wasn't enough in yet another nip-tuck game for the Pirates.

Though Pittsburgh has been anemic at the plate — coming in with a team batting average of .203, easily the worst in the majors — the Pirates have remained competitive thanks to a pitching staff that ranks third in the NL in ERA (2.53).

Pittsburgh hasn't scored more than five runs or given up more than five runs in a game this season, the longest such streak to start a year in the NL since the 1965 Pirates.

That team shook off a 6-10 start to finish 90-72 and featured three Hall of Famers in Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski.

This version of the Pirates lacks the star power, and will need to find some offense eventually if they want to be a factor this summer.

The Cardinals have no such worries. They are the National League's top offensive team despite losing slugger Albert Pujols in the offseason.

St. Louis has outscored its opponents by 36 runs through the season's first two weeks, the most in the NL.

NOTES: St. Louis CF John Jay will fly back to St. Louis to have his sprained right shoulder re-examined. ... The Pirates open a three-game series with Colorado on Monday. Kevin Correia (1-0, 1.50 ERA), who was scratched from his usual start on Saturday due to pain in his side, will start for Pittsburgh against Colorado's Jamie Moyer (1-2, 2.55 ERA). ... The Cardinals begin a three-game series in Chicago on Monday. Jaime Garcia (2-0, 3.06 ERA) will face Matt Garza (1-1, 3.66).