September 5, 2008

And the tough losses get tougher

Braden Looper was the third St. Louis Cardinals starter in a row to throw an awesome game. But like Kyle Lohse versus Arizona, Looper ended up with nothing to show for it versus the Florida Marlins tonight at Busch Stadium. Adam Wainwright came out okay on his start (also in Arizona), but that 8-2 victory was the only bright spot as far as the bottom line goes in the last week's worth of games.

Looper threw 7.1 innings of scoreless ball, scattering four hits, walking nary a Marlin, while striking out six. Unfortunately for the Cards, Ricky Nolasco was throwing quite a game, himself. Nolasco went almost as far as Looper, going 1/3 less at 7.0 innings, giving up only one run, walking no Cardinals, and striking out four.

In fact, that one run Nolasco gave up came in the seventh when Adam Kennedy singled home Albert Pujols after one of his two doubles. That would be the only run the Cards would score.

The Marlins didn't tie the game until the ninth inning, after manager Tony La Russa had used Russ Springer for the last two outs of the eighth inning and Chris Perez to close in the ninth. Mike Jacobs spoiled Perez's chance to earn a save by clobbering a home run to right center field, his solo shot sending the game into extra innings. Other than that one mistake pitch, Perez did throw an excellent three outs.

La Russa would go on to use Ryan Franklin and Ron Villone, but when the Marlins secured a couple of bases with two outs in the eleventh inning, La Russa went to rookie Jason Motte.

With one pitch to earn a victory, Dan Uggla singled to left field, scoring Hanley Ramirez from third base. Things unravled just long enough to give the Marlins a couple more runs when Cody Ross fought off a Motte pitch to loop a single into right field near the foul line. Felipe Lopez, playing left field as a substitute, could not throw out Jorge Cantu at home, but when he bobbled the ball on the transfer from glove to throwing hand, Uggla came around to score, the Marlins going up 4-1.

The Cards went down one-two-three in the bottom of the frame, once more doing well in some aspects of the game while falling short in others. Low offense was the culprit tonight.

The frustrating part of the loss was that the Phillies won 3-0 over the Mets, moving farther ahead in the Wild Card race, and losing ground to the Wild Card leading Brewers, who edged the Padres in extra innings. About the only break the Cards got was that the Astros lost 5-3 to the Rockies.

In the NL Central, then, the Cards are now 10.0 games behind the division-leading Cubs. The Brewers are only 4.0 games out of first, putting the Cards 6.0 out of second place (and Wild Card lead). Due to their loss, the Astros remain a game behind the Cardinals, who remain in third place.

The bigger problem the Cards have is that they've now let the Phillies slip ahead of them by a couple games, and with the shrinking supply of games left to play, the odds of success get worse with each game. It's one thing when a team has to win x amount of games to make the playoffs, but it's quite another when you have to rely on other teams to lose.

There may not be another team in the majors that has come so close to doing better than well and come up short, about thirty times! No one feels sorry for you in the Bigs, however, and the Cardinals know it, so again they will have to rely on their toughness to start another day anew, hopefully with the short memory of a relief pitcher.


photos by Barbara Moore