ST. LOUIS -- Highly agitated, Lou Piniella rolled up his sleeves during a postgame news conference to illustrate a point. The fiery manager wants his players to roll up their sleeves, too, and finish off the competition in the NL Central.
"We're playing like we're waiting to get beat," Piniella said after a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night. "You don't have a big enough lead in September to play ball like that."
Albert Pujols homered for the third straight game to erase an early three-run deficit and pinch-runner Brendan Ryan slid in just ahead of the tag on a ninth-inning grounder against a drawn-in infield with the deciding run.
"Hopefully, we don't feel too comfortable," Pujols said. "Hopefully, we'll say it's another win against a great ballclub.
"We've still got five more games against these guys and we're going to see them in a couple of weeks in Wrigley."
Aramis Ramirez had three hits and two RBIs for the Cubs, who have lost eight of nine while scoring three runs or fewer six times. The Cubs came in with a 4½-game lead on the Brewers in the AL Central, but Piniella thinks players are acting as if they've already won the division
"Teams that play ball like that invariably get caught, no matter how big the lead," Piniella said. "You've got to stay aggressive, you've got to do the things you've done all year.
"We're not executing, we're making mistakes and we're getting beat. I'm getting quite tired of watching it, to be honest with you. "
The Cardinals started the night 4½ games behind Milwaukee in the wild-card race.
Ryan Theriot, a late addition to the Cubs' lineup after reporting Tuesday with lingering effects from dizziness and dehydration that forced him out of Sunday's game, had two hits to begin rallies in the first and third. He's 9-for-17 against Kyle Lohse.
Yadier Molina singled off Carlos Marmol (2-4) to start the bottom of the ninth and was replaced by Ryan, who advanced on Marmol's first balk of the season. The balk was called when the pitcher came set before a fourth pickoff attempt. Felipe Lopez walked after fouling off four full-count pitches and the runners moved up on a sacrifice before Cesar Izturis' soft grounder to second gave Ryan just enough time to beat Mark DeRosa's relay to the plate.
"Cesar put it in play and Brendan got a great jump," manager Tony La Russa said. "A lot of solid baseball at the end."
Marmol had thrown 6 2/3 innings this season against the Cardinals without allowing an earned run, including the eighth Tuesday, before faltering.
Pujols' 33rd homer was a three-run shot off Ryan Dempster that tied it in the sixth. Pujols, who has seven RBIs the last three games and 98 on the year, hammered a first-pitch fastball an estimated 404 feet over the wall in center. Skip Schumaker doubled to start the inning and Aaron Miles bunted for a hit to set up the rally.
"He could have popped it up or flied out but he didn't," Dempster said of Pujols. "He does what he does and he hit it out and unfortunately we didn't get it done."
The Cardinals missed a chance for more when Dempster struck out pinch hitter Adam Kennedy with runners on second and third to end the inning.
Dempster, who has allowed homers in his last two starts after going 69 2/3 innings without surrendering a long ball, recovered with a perfect seventh to end his outing. He struck out six, and walked two -- both to Molina -- while allowing seven hits.
The Cubs jumped on Lohse in the first for three straight one-out hits, including consecutive RBI doubles by Derrek Lee and Ramirez, for a 2-0 lead. Theriot singled to start that salvo, and he tripled and scored in the third on Ramirez' single to make it 3-0.
Lohse failed in his seventh attempt to match his career best of 14 victories for the Twins in 2003, leaving with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth. Rookie Jason Motte stranded them, striking out Dempster and getting Soriano on a flyout to the warning track in right.
Lohse has four straight no-decisions and is 0-3 with a 4.01 ERA in seven starts overall since beating the Phillies on Aug. 1.
Pujols was named the Cardinals' recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award for community service in a pre-game ceremony. ... Cardinals 3B Troy Glaus strained his right shoulder striking out to end the third and was taken out. La Russa said Glaus had an injection behind the shoulder on Sunday and expects him to miss a few games. ... Jim Edmonds is 0-for-9 in St. Louis since joining the Cubs and 2-for-20 overall, although he walked in his last two at-bats Tuesday. He also just missed by inches becoming the first player to foul a ball into the writer's press box in the third deck, the ball striking just outside the window, before striking out to end the first.