Rallying Cardinals lose grip on first place

Rallying Cardinals lose grip on first place

Rallying Cardinals lose grip on first place
ST. LOUIS -- It was a crisp 2-hour, 29-minute affair the last time the Cardinals and Phillies met on the field. The nine-inning National League Division Series game featured one run, nine combined hits and a series-clinching win for St. Louis.

The stakes weren't comparable on Thursday night, and, as it turned out, neither were the numbers.

Despite a frenzied comeback attempt by the Cardinals, the Phillies bashed their way to a 10-9 victory in front of 40,135 at Busch Stadium. It may not have been redemption for what St. Louis did in October, but the Phillies' win did bump the Cardinals from first place in the division.

For the first time this season, the Cardinals do not own the top spot in the National League Central. That now belongs to the Reds, winners of six straight.

That was no topic of conversation afterward, of course, given that 117 games remain in the season. Rather, the buzz, despite a loss, was of resiliency.

"I just went in there and went around the room and told them I was happy with how, especially our offense and defense, went about that game," said manager Mike Matheny, whose team erased a six-run deficit at one point. "To have the mentality of being down after a fight like that, I think, is counterproductive. There were a whole lot of positives with what happened right there."

Not among the positives was the pitching, which allowed a season high in runs and hits (18). St. Louis' own offense had 15 hits and scored nine of the final 13 runs of the night.

"That shows you that we're never going to quit," catcher Yadier Molina said. "No matter what the score is, we're going to battle and play hard every inning."

The Cardinals never did lead, though. They played from behind after Jake Westbrook allowed four first-inning runs and, while managing to tie the game at 7 in the fifth, immediately fell back into a deficit.

The Cardinals still have not completed a comeback victory when trailing by more than three runs in a game this year. They had lost just once previously when scoring at least seven.

"We had nine innings to try and make a comeback," said David Freese, who had a second straight two-hit game. "It just wasn't enough tonight."

Down, 6-0, after two innings, the Cardinals moved to within two in the third. Run-scoring hits by Carlos Beltran, Freese and Molina helped push across the four runs against Phillies starter Joe Blanton.

A solo homer from Matt Holliday, who now has six home runs this month, and a two-run blast by Molina brought the Cardinals even in the fifth and ended Blanton's night. Molina finished with a four-hit night, his second of the season.

"You never count that offense out on the other side, and it showed," said Philadelphia's Shane Victorino. "They came right back."

Reliever Fernando Salas followed and, in his first appearance since a May 18 meltdown in Los Angeles, sapped that momentum immediately. He followed the Cardinals' three-run fifth by allowing Philadelphia to inch back in front in the sixth. Four hits led to two runs, which gave the Phillies a lead they never did relinquish.

"Giving up a couple runs there ended up costing him in the end," Matheny said. "He'll have to get back in there and figure something out."

Freese's seventh-inning home run, his second in as many nights, brought the Cardinals to within one. The clubs then traded runs in the eighth, with the bottom half ending when Beltran struck out with two on. The Cardinals never seriously threatened against Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth.

The hole out of which the Cardinals had to climb was dug by Westbrook, who never found his rhythm in a season-short 3 2/3-inning start. Philadelphia pounced on him in the first, an inning also interrupted by back-and-forth dialogue between Molina and home-plate umpire Rob Drake.

The two have a contentious history -- Molina was suspended five games for making contact with Drake during a heated exchange last August -- and Molina wasn't pleased about the strike zone Westbrook was being given early.

"When you're in the game and you care about the game and the strike zone, you're going to have those conversations," Molina said. "I was asking where the pitch was, and I gave my opinion. I respect Drake. What happened in the past, I'm going to leave behind. It's just about this game. I thought we had a pretty close pitch that could have been a strike."

The conversation continued after the first inning and, at that time, included Matheny.

"Unfortunately, it did take away from the rhythm of the game, and whenever that happens, that ultimately affects a pitcher," Matheny said. "We weren't happy about the way that whole thing played out. But I always support the player and understand that he's out to do whatever he can to establish the zone."

Asked afterward if there was an inconsistent strike zone, Westbrook chose not to claim a scapegoat.

"I learned early on that I can't worry about the things I can't control," said Westbrook, whose pitch count sat at 60 after two innings. "It wasn't too big of a deal to me. I still have to go out there and throw strikes."

This was the first time all year that Westbrook had been knocked around early. He entered the night having allowed only one run in the first three innings of all eight previous starts.

After making quick work of the Phillies in the third, Westbrook saw his night end when he loaded the bases in the fourth. Brandon Dickson assisted in getting out of that mess, but the bullpen ultimately couldn't follow that lead.

"I just didn't do a very good job of giving us a chance," Westbrook said.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.