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Royals drop I-70 Series finale

Royals drop I-70 Series finale

ST. LOUIS -- As teammates dressed and packed their belongings, Mike Wood sat in his chair, his face down. Minutes went by and Wood just stared at his locker.

Wearing black pants and a T-shirt, Wood finally stood up and, with a blank look on his face, replayed the third inning, an inning that completely turned the game around in Sunday's 9-7 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

Through the second inning, the Royals right-hander was in cruise control, containing the Cardinals lineup. Then, with one out in the third, everything collapsed for Wood. Eight of the next nine hitters reached base, resulting in six runs.

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"I pitched badly," Wood said. "I just didn't give us a chance and they took advantage."

Wood's lack of command and control in the third gave the Cardinals a 6-1 lead. The Royals tried mounting a late-inning comeback, but the early deficit was too much to overcome.

Wood's performance compounded the Royals' starting pitching problems. Over the last 12 games, KC starters have a 4-3 record, but have averaged just 4 2/3 innings per start and have registered a terrible 8.04 ERA. National League hitters have dominated the starters, batting .370.

Through two innings, it seemed Wood would deviate from the norm and control a team that entered Sunday second in the National League in batting average. He allowed just two baserunners in the first two innings before the floodgates opened.

Protecting a 1-0 lead, Wood coaxed a ground ball from Jason Marquis. Then, David Eckstein singled to left and John Rodriguez walked. Next, Albert Pujols hit a Wood pitch 401 feet over the left-field fence.

"I hung a splitter right down the middle to Pujols and he hit the home run and that was the turning point for us," Wood said.

Wood lost control after that, hitting Scott Rolen and walking Jim Edmonds and Scott Spiezio.

"I was missing with my two-seam fastball and that is my go-to pitch," Wood said. "I was missing out and up and wasn't consistent with it."

Yadier Molina followed with a single to center, plating two more runs. Two batters after that, Marquis finished the damage with another single.

Two innings later, Wood again was hit hard. Reaching 90 pitches on a sweltering 95-degree day, the right-hander was starting to tire, but knew he wasn't coming out. The bullpen was heavily taxed after two straight extra-inning games.

"I knew I was going to get my whole outing no matter what," Wood said. "I should have been more aggressive. It got out of hand. I was going after them, I just didn't stay aggressive with my fastball."

Wood left two fastballs over the plate to Rolen and Edmonds. Both were blasted in the nether reaches of Busch Stadium, totaling a combined 877 feet. Two batters later, the right-hander finished his day with eight earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. He has pitched 8 1/3 innings over his last two starts, permitting 12 earned runs.

On the other hand, Marquis -- coming off two outings where he allowed a combined 20 earned runs -- held KC's bats at bay.

"He was throwing a sinker and a cutter and did a good job pitching with the lead and keeping us out of the dugout," Tony Graffanino said. "He was keeping us out of the dugout and getting some quick outs."

Down 8-1 entering the seventh, the Royals mounted a comeback. The red-hot David DeJesus, 3-for-5 in the game, contributed an RBI single, bringing the deficit to six. DeJesus enjoyed a terrific series, finishing the three games with a .563 average in 16 at-bats.

"He is a heckuva good player who is only going to get better," manager Buddy Bell said. "He was out of the lineup for two months [with an injury] and has come back and been exceptional. I think one of these days he is going to make an All-Star team and it is going to be well-deserved."

The leadoff catalyst, enjoying a nice break from the pitching-rich AL Central, has crushed NL pitching, batting .436 (24-for-55) in 2006 Interleague Play.

"I just feel really comfortable at the plate," he said. "I am seeing pitches and recognizing them out of the pitcher's hand and I am swinging at good pitches."

The Royals started to hit Marquis and the Cardinals' weak bullpen in the eighth, scoring three runs.

In the ninth inning, they nearly mounted a comeback for the third straight game. KC plated two runs and had the tying run at the plate, but couldn't break through.

John Buck grounded out, ending the game and bringing the Royals just their fourth loss in the past 13 games.

"The [third inning] did us in, but with the way we have been playing, we still feel like we have a chance," Bell said. "We just ran out of time."

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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