Sweep just out of reach as Motte blows lead

Sweep just out of reach as Motte blows lead

Sweep just out of reach as Motte blows lead
ST. LOUIS -- Before the Cardinals could turn their full attention to a key division series against the Pirates, there was one more to-do list item to take care of on Thursday.

And after sitting through a one-hour, 25-minute rain delay, the Cardinals couldn't check it off.

With an opportunity for closer Jason Motte to seal a season sweep of the D-backs, St. Louis watched back-to-back Arizona home runs taint the end of what is still a series win.

It did not feel like it, however, after the 2-1 loss at Busch Stadium. Not for a club that realizes the importance of each of its final 45 games. Not for a team that had a chance to wipe away another game on the Reds' already-imposing lead in the National League Central.

Instead of savoring another win, the Cardinals were left lamenting another one-run loss, their 20th in the 32 one-run games they've played

"I sound like a broken record, but we're not where we want to be or need to be or should be," said starter Kyle Lohse, who had another quality start wasted, something that's become too recurring a theme.

"But we have to figure out a way to gut these things out. It's a team game. We all have our parts in it. As a team, we have to do a better job of figuring out how to win these close ones."

The loss assured the Cardinals of welcoming the Pirates to Busch Stadium -- where St. Louis has won 13 of 17 since the All-Star break -- with Pittsburgh holding a one-game lead over the Cards in the division and Wild Card races.

Doing all he could to wrap up the Cardinals' sixth win in six games against Arizona this year, Lohse handed a 1-0 lead over to a bullpen that has received steady late-inning relief all season. And for a while, this looked to be no different.

"We keep saying the same thing over and over, but we've been very impressed with just how he comes out and makes his pitches," manager Mike Matheny said of Lohse. "He gets into a position for us to win."

Marc Rzepczynski's bailed Lohse out of the seventh by stranding two baserunners with a strikeout. Mitchell Boggs was next, and little intrigue ensued in his 14-pitch eighth-inning appearance.

And then it was Motte, looking to convert his 14th straight save opportunity. He struck out catcher Miguel Montero to start the inning, before a nine-pitch battle against first baseman Paul Goldschmidt ensued. Goldschmidt fouled off three straight 3-2 fastballs before Motte left a cutter over the plate.

"It wasn't good," Motte said. "It's one of those situations where you don't want to walk him, but you want to make a good enough pitch that he can't do what he did with it. I didn't do either one of those."

The ball landed in the center-field seats to tie the game.

One pitch later, Arizona took the lead on Chris Young's homer to left.

"It was down and in," Motte said of that four-seam fastball. "It was just one of those things that he was geared up fastball, and I threw a fastball, and he hit it.

"I just didn't do my job tonight."

For the D-backs, the ninth-inning back-to-back homers were a first this season and it was the eighth time its happened in franchise history.

"Motte is a power pitcher," said Young, who, before the blast, was 0-for-5 in the series. "You know he's going to be around the plate. He's a great pitcher so you just try to be aggressive."

Collectively, the loss stung. On a personal level, it also cost Lohse the chance to join Lance Lynn as the staff's second 13-game winner.

Lohse has pitched well enough all year to deserve wins he hasn't received because of sparse run support and/or blown leads. In his 11 no-decisions, Lohse has posted a 2.82 ERA. In each of his last six, he has pitched at least six innings and allowed no more than two earned runs.

Though he already owns the best winning percentage (.867) of any NL starter, Lohse could easily be threatening the league's four 15-game winners for that lead, too.

"His record has been good, but not nearly as good as what it could have been," noted Matheny. "This is another example of that. It's just a shame we let it slip away."

There was little to consider troublesome during Lohse's time on the mound, even though he battled with less-than-ideal fastball command.

He did walk three, including two in the fourth, though catcher Tony Cruz helped steer Lohse away from more trouble there by throwing out attempted basestealer Aaron Hill to complete a double play.

"One of the big things has been nights like tonight, not having my best stuff and then still being able to go out there are get the job done," said Lohse, whose 2.61 ERA is third best in the NL. "That's what I'm more pleased with."

Lohse limited Arizona to four hits, and St. Louis mustered only one more off D-backs starter Trevor Cahill. In all, four of the team's six hits didn't leave the infield, including a fifth-inning single by Rafael Furcal.

That hit was a catalyst for the offense's only productive inning. With one out, Allen Craig drove Lohse home with a single to left. A chance to tack on more, though, was missed when Matt Holliday grounded into a double play to end the inning.

Holliday and Beltran, the team's Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, combined to go 0-for-8 in the game and 2-for-23 in the series.

"We know every run counts," Matheny said. "We have to have every one of them. When we do have those opportunities, you can't let them slip away."

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.