Cardinals blank Giants, hold Bonds hitless



By Janie McCauley

ST. LOUIS – Barry Bonds’ chase of Hank Aaron is now on a four-day hiatus. The All-Star break might be coming at a better time for San Francisco’s other star Barry – struggling left-hander Barry Zito.

Bonds went 0-for-3 in his final game of the first half and remained at 751 home runs, Chris Duncan drove in three runs for St. Louis and the Cardinals avoided a three-game sweep with a 7-0 victory Sunday over the San Francisco Giants.

Duncan’s two-run double in the fifth knocked out Zito (6-9), who ended his disappointing first half with a six-start winless stretch and four straight dropped decisions. That’s hardly what the Giants or the $126 million man himself expected after he received the richest deal ever for a pitcher.

“I think the break will be good for me. I can assess what’s going on, become objective and move forward,” said Zito, whose last win was May 30 at New York. “It’s hard to sum up the first half in a couple of lines. … Battling yourself is the key to everyone’s failures. It’s not me. It’s the reason anyone struggles in this game.”

Zito will head to Southern California to clear his mind and spend time with family – and plans to talk to his father Joe about his first-half problems.

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Ryan Ludwick doubled twice, drove in a run and matched his career high with three hits, and Todd Wellemeyer (3-1) won for the first time in five starts since beating the Los Angeles Angels on June 10.

Wellemeyer, who will be bumped from the rotation in favor of Kip Wells to start the second half, pitched five shutout innings. Four relievers finished the five-hit shutout, St. Louis’ first at home this season and third overall.

“I’ve done it for the last three years, so it’s no problem at all,” he said. “I knew I was going to end up in the bullpen eventually.”

Duncan also hit an RBI single in the seventh, helping the Cardinals avert their first three-game sweep at Busch Stadium since the New York Mets took all three April 1-4 to open the season.

“I thought that was an important game,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who will manage Bonds on the NL roster in Tuesday night’s All-Star game in San Francisco. “You keep hearing all the time, ‘If you’re only going to win one of three, win the last one.'”

Bonds homered only in the first game of his team’s six-game Midwest trip, Tuesday night at Cincinnati. He is four shy of tying Aaron’s record.

Bonds left the game – when the first-pitch temperature was 90 degrees – early for the third straight day. The sellout crowd of 44,613 booed when Kevin Frandsen stepped in as a pinch hitter in the eighth, certainly hoping to see No. 25 one more time.

“Well, when they scored another run and it was another long inning, it’s a day game after a night game and I just said, ‘That’s enough,'” manager Bruce Bochy said.

Bonds walked five times in the first two games of the series, but was challenged each time Sunday. He flied out to left to end the first, struck out swinging on a high, 93 mph fastball to end the third, then flied out to left again to start the sixth.

His pursuit of the Hammer will wait until Friday night, when the Giants open a three-game home series against the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers. After that, it’s off to Wrigley Field for four games against the Chicago Cubs and then three at Milwaukee – the city where Aaron began and ended his 23-year big league career.

Zito’s nine losses are a career-worst before the break. He faced four batters in the fifth but didn’t record an out before giving way to Scott Atchison.

“He’s battling himself, no question about it,” Bochy said. “It really was an ugly day for us. We didn’t pitch, hit or play defense. … We’ve got to tighten things up, there’s no getting around it. Our strength is pitching and we got away from it today.”

Zito allowed six runs and eight hits, walked four and struck out three. There is cause for the Giants to be optimistic that things will get better: Zito owns a 59-27 career record and 3.26 ERA after the break.

Catcher Bengie Molina came out to talk things over with Zito in the first after a leadoff single to Brendan Ryan followed by Ludwick’s double over Bonds’ head in left. Albert Pujols followed with an RBI single to right and Scott Rolen added a sacrifice fly two batters later.

While the Cardinals’ defense played a clean game for the first time in the series, rookie shortstop Ryan dropped Roberts’ routine pop fly in the third after losing the ball in the sun. He wound up getting a force out at second, then someone ran out a pair of sunglasses for him _ but he put them on the top of his hat and manager Tony La Russa started gesturing.

Aaron Miles was back to second base after committing three seventh-inning errors a night earlier that led to three unearned runs in San Francisco’s 7-6 win.