Adam Wainwright was twirling a no-hitter and had a two-run lead with one out in the fourth before an error by shortstop Pete Kozma -- filling in for the injured Furcal -- allowed Will Venable to reach and brought Chase Headley to the plate. Headley hit a chopper that tipped off the glove of second baseman Skip Schumaker for an infield single, and a Yasmani Grandal grounder then did the same to David Freese at third, also scored an infield single.
"It hit my glove, so sure I could've made [the play]," Freese said.
"[Headley] hit it as soft as you can hit it, I felt like I was running forever to get it, but yeah, I'd love to have that play back," Schumaker said. "Koz would like to have that play back. There's just some plays that usually are made and when it's going bad, that's what happens."
A walk, a Logan Forsythe double and Alexi Amarista triple later, and the Cardinals' two-run lead had evaporated -- and with it St. Louis' chances of earning a series win in San Diego.
"It's tough. [Wainwright] found himself with the bases loaded and the ball never got out of the infield," Cardinals' manager Mike Matheny said. "He usually does a good job pitching out of the jams ... but they got the big hit."
"The difference in a good season and a bad season for a pitcher is when he makes pitches with guys on base. And tonight I didn't make pitches with guys on base," Wainwright said. "Pretty much all year, if I make a pitch with guys on base, things happen differently."
The three unearned runs scored in that fateful inning were decisive in what is the Redbirds' 10th loss in their last 15 games. The defeat was also a missed opportunity: the Dodgers fell to the D-Backs Tuesday, but St. Louis could not build on its one-game lead over Los Angeles for the final NL Wild Card spot.
"It's frustrating," Schumaker said. "Guys are beating themselves up in here because they know what's at stake."
And while defense may be the most glaring cause of Tuesday's disappointing outcome, the Cardinals' offense also failed to do its part. The Redbirds had base runners aplenty, as the Padres committed three errors and walked seven St. Louis hitters. But the Cardinals couldn't string many of their seven hits together and left 13 men on base while going just 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position. The Cards also failed to propel their own rallies without hits, as they were unable to get bunts down on three different occasions.
"Lot of chances, and a lot of chances in the middle of the order right where we wanted to be, and we just didn't get it done," Matheny said. "Obviously we'd like it to go differently."
"We had a lot of opportunities, we had the right guys up at the plate with guys on ... and it just didn't happen tonight, it hasn't been happening. That's why it's frustrating," Schumaker said. "It's tough to swallow because we're too good."
The defensive breakdown spoiled what was otherwise a strong outing from Wainwright, who did not give up a run in any inning besides that fatal fourth. He gave up just five hits and struck out six in what was a strong recovery from his last two outings in which he gave up 10 runs in 11 combined innings.
"I really felt great out there today, to be honest with you," Wainwright said. "I had the four walks, but got my tempo and delivery where I wanted to be."
And while the resurgent start from Wainwright was certainly important for the team to see heading into the final few weeks of the season, optimism borne of that outing could not temper the frustrations of the scuffling Cardinals as they watch teams like Philadelphia and Milwaukee climb back into the race.
"We've talked about it: we have to make baseball plays," Matheny said. "Baseball plays are fielding your position and doing the little things offensively like getting runners over whether it's by bunt or swinging. If we don't do that, we can't expect to win games like this."
"This is an opportunity to lengthen our lead in the standings, and we're just not doing it and it's allowing other teams to stick around," Freese said. "Other teams are jumping in the picture and we know how that goes looking at last year. It's frustrating, we understand what's going on, but we have to win ballgames down the stretch. The teams that do that get in the playoffs."
"You win. That's how you turn it around, you win," Schumaker said. "You pitch better, you hit better, you field better. We have to get a win out of this series."