ST. LOUIS -- It's no coincidence that the Cardinals' surge to the top of the division standings coincided with a cleanup of the fundamentals. Cleanly played games turned into a rush of wins, leaving the team's ugly start a distant memory.
For one night, though, the Cardinals lapsed back into their early-season ways. Hindered by three errors, an aggressive baserunning try gone wrong and an inability to complete a pickoff, the Cardinals fell, 6-3, to the Red Sox on Tuesday to open a two-game Interleague series.
"We're going to keep talking about how we're going to improve defensively and how we're going to keep working on it," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said afterward. "It's not necessarily all going to come in one day, but I believe we've made great strides forward. We're still going to have days where it just doesn't come together. But I would say this is very much like what we saw early on and what we saw at times last year. If you don't make plays, it ends up biting us pretty hard."
The Cardinals became the sixth team to have its third three-error game of the season. Their first two, however, came last month, when the defense was finding its footing.
After committing 21 errors in the team's first 21 games, the Cardinals entered Tuesday with eight in their past 15 games. During that stretch, the Cardinals went 11-4. But the three errors on Tuesday led to three unearned runs.
"We got a little sloppy there in the middle of the game and at the end," third baseman Jedd Gyorko said. "If you get sloppy, it's going to cost you wins."
Gyorko's fifth-inning error opened the door for the Red Sox to retake the lead. It was the least egregious of the team's defensive mistakes, as Deven Marrero's hard-hit grounder took a short hop just in front of Gyorko. But Gyorko couldn't glove it for a double-play try, nor could he keep it in front of him, which may have allowed time to get one out.
Instead, it left starter Lance Lynn to deal with two runners aboard and no out. Both scored.
"It's a play I have to make," Gyorko said. "It's a big play in the game. We could have had two outs and the pitcher coming up. It's a huge play."
In the bottom half of the inning, a potential two-out rally was snuffed out before ever igniting as Matt Carpenter, trying to stretch a single into a two-base hit, was thrown out by right fielder Mookie Betts to end the inning.
Matheny lauded the aggressive try, though the Cardinals have now lost 34 baserunners this season, most in the Majors.
Boston then padded its lead when Tommy Pham inexplicably dropped a routine flyball to left field. What should have been the final out of the inning -- it had a 99 percent catch probability, according to Statcast™ -- instead allowed another run to score.
"I was sprinting hard, and it came back in on me," Pham said. "You have to catch that ball. You can't drop it."
That inning had already been compounded when shortstop Aledmys Diaz was unable to execute a tag that would have completed a textbook pickoff.
The defense wasn't solely responsible for the outcome, but early-season results illustrate how important a component it continues to be. Because on the flip side, the Cardinals have won 13 of the 17 errorless games they've played.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.