ST. LOUIS -- Moments of missed execution both at the plate and on the mound blemished what was otherwise the best look Mike Leake has given in three starts with his newest organization.
The Cardinals' 5-0 loss to the Cubs on Monday left Leake wondering what could have been had a squeeze play been accomplished and had a sixth-inning sinker to Dexter Fowler actually sunk. Instead, all that did were the Cardinals, who remain winless in Leake's outings thus far.
He had been rolling, to use manager Mike Matheny's postgame descriptor, through five innings, limiting the Cubs to two hits on 55 pitches. He used the Cubs' patient approach to his advantage, most notably in the third, when he ran off eight consecutive called third strikes before a ground ball by former Cardinal Jason Heyward ended the inning.
Leake, an accomplished hitter, had the opportunity to give himself a lead in the fifth when, with a pair of runners in scoring position and one out, he stepped in against John Lackey. Matheny summoned a squeeze with the count 1-1. Leake lunged and missed as a cutter pulled away from him.
"It was a tough pitch to try and get down," Leake said afterward. "I probably could have put some bat on it if I get a little lower with my legs. I guess I'll try to practice some tomorrow."
Kolten Wong kept the play from completely unraveling by sliding back into third safely. Leake then teased with a deep drive to left field, just foul, before striking out. Matt Carpenter did, too, behind him, giving Lackey his biggest two strikeouts on a night when he had 11. Runners were stranded at second and third.
"I was fortunate," Lackey said, "to make a couple of good pitches and get out of it."
While the Cardinals couldn't manufacture a run, the Cubs showed little need to. Four pitches into the next half-inning, Fowler tattooed an elevated sinker for a solo homer. It was the first and only run the Cubs would need, though another three runs scored off Leake in the seventh, which may have looked quite different if not for an Aledmys Diaz fielding error.
"I just didn't do a great job of answering back after that ground ball," Leake said. "I got away a little bit in that seventh. Other than that, I felt better than the last two outings, so I'm getting on track."
The loss to the Cubs was Leake's first in nearly four years. He had been 5-0 in 11 starts since then and entered the game with the second-highest winning percentage (.818) against the Cubs of any active pitcher with a minimum of 10 starts.