Cards mount rally, but drop fourth straight game

Cards mount rally, but drop fourth straight game

Cards mount rally, but drop fourth straight game
ST. LOUIS -- Twice in the seventh inning on Monday, Mike Matheny called for intentional walks to create the matchups he preferred. Both times, he received the desired outcome.

The Cardinals' manager turned to the strategy again an inning later, only to watch Chicago's Alfonso Soriano effectively counter the move. With a two-out single off Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs, Soriano pushed the Cubs ahead for good in a game they'd win, 6-4.

"I'd do it again," Matheny said afterward, hardly second-guessing the decision to match Boggs against Soriano.

There's good reason for that, too.

A nifty double play started by Lance Berkman put the Cardinals on the cusp of getting out of the eighth inning with the game tied at 4. Cubs outfielder Tony Campana remained on second, but there were two outs. Matheny called for Boggs to intentionally walk cleanup hitter Bryan LaHair, who already had three hits, including a two-run homer.

Not only would that get the Cardinals around a batter who has reached base in 31 straight games, it would give Boggs the chance to face Soriano, lifetime 0-for-9 against the right-handed reliever, seven of them strikeouts.

"He's got a nice thing going right now," Matheny said of LaHair. "We knew that going in, which had a lot to do with not wanting him to beat us in that situation."

Boggs started off the at-bat with a pair of sinkers. Both missed the strike zone.

Those, said a reflective Boggs afterward, "really set the tone for the at-bat. I've got to make better pitches there. I've got to be more aggressive there."

Soriano worked the count to 3-1, then lined a slider into left field to drive home Campana.

"Did he hit the ball hard? No," Boggs said. "Was it a bad pitch? No. Did he do what he had to do? Absolutely."

"He [has] gotten me out a lot of times," Soriano said. "But tonight is my night."

The Cardinals had seen something similar before, too. It was Soriano who drove home the winning run after St. Louis intentionally walked LaHair with two out in the Cubs' walk-off win over the Cardinals on April 24

This loss came in front of 44,276 fans at Busch Stadium and leaves St. Louis needing to win on Tuesday in order to avoid a winless homestand. The current four-game losing streak is a season-long for the Cardinals, who have allowed 29 runs during that span.

"These slumps happen even to good teams," Berkman said. "But they always say cream rises to the top. We have a good team, and we're going to be right there."

After the Cardinals fell behind, the game turned sloppy in the ninth. A club that entered the day with the league's best fielding percentage (.988) spotted Chicago an insurance run by committing two errors on ninth-inning bunt plays.

St. Louis committed three errors in the game.

Earlier in the night, the two clubs traded four-run innings off starters Jake Westbook and Ryan Dempster. Chicago went first, tallying their four in the fifth inning.

Two singles and LaHair's home run pushed across the first three runs. A double by Ian Stewart and one-out RBI single from Geovany Soto drove home the other. Westbrook threw 31 pitches in the inning, which was his last.

"They did a good job of extending innings, which I think was my downfall tonight as far as pitch count," Westbrook said. "I was a little erratic with [the sinker] and just couldn't find the consistency with it."

He needed 107 pitches in all, making him the Cards' third straight starter to average more than 20 pitches per inning. Chicago collected 11 hits against Westbrook, who was fortunate to strand the bases full in both the second and the third.

Westbrook's labors aren't isolated. A Cardinals rotation that carried this club through the first month of the season has now collectively hit a trough. This latest time through the rotation, starters have averaged just over five innings per outing. Opponents have scored 16 runs in 21 innings off Cardinals starters in these four losses.

"Other offenses are finding ways to get our pitch count up," Westbrook said. "We need to do a better job of making quality pitches earlier in the count. We need to be aggressive and find a way to get that early contact, quick outs."

St. Louis answered the Cubs' big inning with four runs off Dempster in the sixth. The inning opened with consecutive singles from Jon Jay and Matt Holliday. Berkman extended his hitting streak to nine with his first RBI hit since coming off the disabled list on Sunday. Yadier Molina followed with a two-run double.

David Freese was thrown out trying to score on Molina's bases-loaded hit, but the throw home allowed Molina to advance to third. That put him in position to tie the game when Skip Schumaker dropped a two-out single into center.

"I just kept trying to make pitches," said Dempster, who remained winless despite a 1.74 ERA. "Even in that inning, I thought I made some good pitches. They did a good job of hitting my mistakes."

Matheny was able to force Dempster out in the seventh, as his second intentional walk brought up the ninth spot in Chicago's order with the bases full. Cubs manager Dale Sveum pulled Dempster for a pinch-hitter.

Though Chicago didn't score that inning, the Cardinals mustered just one hit off the pair of Cubs relievers that followed.

"We've seen the kind of baseball that we can play," Matheny said. "We've also seen the kind when we're not real careful. We're in a spot right now that we're going to have to work our way out of."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.