Cardinals 7, Expos 6

Wednesday, September 6th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS--There's no hurry for Andy Benes to return to the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation.

Rookie Britt Reames, Benes' replacement, didn't allow a hit for 5 2-3 innings as the NL Central leaders beat the Montreal Expos 7-6 Tuesday night for their sixth straight victory. He didn't mind losing the no-hitter as long as he got his first career victory in four starts.

"I just wanted to win the game, period," Reames said. "I really wasn't thinking about that, to be honest with you."

Reames, 27, has made big progress since his major league debut Aug. 20, when he walked six in four innings of a 6-0 loss to the Phillies. The next three starts he's worked five, six and 5 2-3 innings, and shown enough promise that he'll get at least a few more starts before Benes is ready to return to the rotation.

Benes was on the disabled list with knee tendinitis until Sunday, and is working out of the bullpen for now.

"You get more confident as you go and you feel good and you believe in yourself and trust in yourself," said Reames, who was charged with three runs on one hit and four walks. "You don't try to do anything extra, you just throw your stuff."

The Expos' first hit off Reames (1-1) was a two-run double by Vladimir Guerrero that came after two walks earlier in the sixth inning. After walking his first batter, Gene Stechschulte gave up a three-run homer to Geoff Blum that cut the gap to a run.

Ray Lankford, who's trying to recapture his stroke in time for the playoffs, homered twice and drove in three runs for the Cardinals.

"It's at the point now that it's not what I've done, it's what I do from here on out," Lankford said. "If I can have a good September and October, that takes care of a lot of things."

Lankford, who began the year batting third but has been in the fifth slot since a very slow start, is hitting .251 with 22 homers, 58 RBIs and 131 strikeouts in 342 at-bats. He's also been a bit of a liability in left field.

Lankford's two-run homer in the third off Julio Santana (0-5) gave the Cardinals a 6-0 lead. He homered again leading off the sixth against Anthony Telford for a 7-5 lead, and Fernando Seguignol homered in the seventh for the Expos.

Mike Timlin pitched the final two innings for his 12th save, and first in the NL, as the Cardinals matched their season-best winning streak. They also tied their season-best lead, pulling 10 games ahead of the Reds in the NL Central.

The Cardinals are 5-0 with two games to go on the homestand, have won 16 of 20 overall and are a season-best 22 games above .500 (80-58).

Santana walked three batters in the Cardinals' four-run first, and all of them scored. Will Clark had a two-run single, making him 8-for-8 against Santana with five RBIs, and Edgar Renteria had an RBI single. Clark also walked and scored on Lankford's home run against Santana in the third.

"I hit a lot of guys," Clark said. "But it's not bad. I'll take it."

Santana lasted three innings and gave up six runs _ five earned _ four hits and four walks. Manager Felipe Alou also criticized Santana for failing to back up home plate on a wild throw by Guerrero from right field that allowed the Cardinals to score a fourth run in the first.

"Santana had pitched well as a starter," Alou said. "Today was the first time he failed."

Notes:@ The Cardinals also led second-place Cincinnati by 10 games on July 5. ... Lankford has 15 career multihomer games, and three this season. Fifteen of his homers and 40 of his RBIs have come at home. ... Cardinals 2B Fernando Vina sat out for the second straight game with bruised ribs. He missed three games last week with the same injury. ... Guerrero has 101 RBIs. Last year he got his 100th on Aug. 28, en route to a team-record 131. ... St. Louis C Eli Marrero, out about two months with a broken thumb, made his first start since July 1 and was 0-for-3. He's 4-for-40 for his career against Montreal pitching. ... The Cardinals have gone eight games without an error. ... After the game, the Expos recalled 1B-OF Talmadge Nunnari from Triple-A Ottawa.