ST. LOUIS—For much of the last two months, talk had centered around how much better the Cubs would be when Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Sammy Sosa and Mark Grudzielanek returned from the disabled list.
But there was scant mention of the absence of injured shortstop Alex Gonzalez, whose steady glove really never was appreciated, especially after an error in Game 6 of last season's National League Championship Series.
Rey Ordonez, one day after an error by Ramon Martinez factored into a late Cardinals comeback.
"You can't give them outs," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Because those guys know what to do with them."
St. Louis' Chris Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen combined for an eight-hit shutout, the seventh time the Cubs have been held scoreless this season.
The Cubs dropped two of three in the series to fall three games behind the NL Central Division-leading Cardinals as ex-CubTony Womack went 3-for-4 to finish the series 7-for-12.
After the loss the Cubs flew home to begin a three-game series Friday against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, where Mark Prior faces Jon Garland in the opener.
Carpenter (8-2) scattered seven hits in eight innings, escaping bases-loaded jams in the second and the fourth.
With Sammy Sosa on second and Aramis Ramirez on first and one out in the second, Corey Patterson hit a long fly off the center-field wall.
But Sosa was deked by Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds, who pretended the ball was catchable before taking it on the rebound.
Ramirez nearly passed Sosa heading to third, and by the time Sosa turned it on, he was thrown out at home by several feet.
"It's a long decoy," Baker said.
Patterson wound up on first on a ball that traveled 400 feet. Sosa later admitted Edmonds faked him out.
"He acted like he was going to catch the ball, so I ran back to second base, trying to tag," Sosa said. "I guess I was a little too late. I tried to pick it up, but that's how he got me. It's something that happened. What can you say?"
Ordonez then grounded into a fielder's choice, ending the inning.
The Cubs loaded the bases on three singles in the third before Ordonez grounded into a 1-2-3 double play on Carpenter's first pitch, abruptly ending that chance.
The Cardinals broke through in the fourth when, with runners on second and third and one out, Baker ordered Matt Clement to walk Ray Lankford. Clement (7-6) induced Hector Luna to hit a grounder to short, but Ordonez let it slip out of his glove while transferring it to his hand, scoring Albert Pujols and opening the floodgates.
Mike Matheney's sacrifice fly made it 2-0, and Carpenter and Womack followed with run-scoring singles to put St. Louis in control. All but one of the runs was unearned. "It was a weird fourth," Clement said.
The Cubs other opportunity came in the seventh, when Carpenter struck out Todd Walker with two on to finish them off. Sosa struck out in his final two at-bats and is 5-for-20 with one RBI since his return from the disabled list.
After a 10-9 loss Wednesday on a passed ball in the eighth inning, the Cubs didn't react like it was the end of the world afterward.
"I don't like a whole bunch of fooling around," Baker said before Thursday's game. "But at the same time, I don't believe in creating a morgue either."
But the clubhouse was as quiet as one after Thursday's loss, and no one took it harder than Ordonez, who was consoled by teammates.