Daniel Murphy's pair of misplays in the sixth inning soiled Jon Niese's otherwise strong start for the Mets, who dropped a 5-2 game to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Even David Wright's big night -- the third baseman homered and doubled to snap out of a 3-for-44 funk -- could not save the Mets, who remained within close striking distance until the sixth.
That's when the Cardinals blew things open with a two-out rally, which Murphy's glovework helped fuel. With two outs and a runner on second base, Daniel Descalso hit a looping line drive to second base, where it glanced off Murphy's glove for an error. The next batter, Kolten Wong, took advantage with an RBI single, moving Descalso to third.
When Wong promptly attempted to steal second base, catcher Anthony Recker's throw appeared to beat him to the bag. But Murphy never looked to apply the tag, instead trying to cut down Descalso scampering back to third after he faked toward home. That throw wasn't nearly in time, giving Peter Bourjos an RBI opportunity that he cashed in with an infield hit.
"That was a very poor decision by me," Murphy said, explaining that he threw to third because he saw Descalso break for the plate.
The Mets entered that inning trailing by two runs and exited it down four, with just nine outs remaining. Niese completed six innings, allowing five runs -- three earned -- on eight hits. He submitted a quality start for the 11th time in 13 outings, good for a 2.64 ERA, but dropped to 3-3 over that stretch.
"I feel like I've been pitching well, just not well enough," Niese said. "I had a lot of chances to close out the games. I've just got to do a better job of focusing when we have the lead, just putting up zeros."
Offense once again came sparingly for the Mets, with Wright finally playing a central role. His leadoff homer in the fourth inning represented the only run off Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, who struck out seven over six innings.
"He's got swing-and-miss stuff," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That gets him out of big innings."
Wright also doubled to lead off the sixth, but Recker flew out and Ruben Tejada struck out with runners on the corners to stall that threat. More offense did not come until the ninth inning, when Lucas Duda's leadoff homer made the final score a bit more respectable. But the Mets went quietly after that.
"It stinks to lose," Wright said.
It all came in stark contrast to what the Cardinals were doing, taking advantage of seemingly every Mets mistake. Manager Terry Collins called it the "cardinal rule" with a lowercase "C," though he might as well have capitalized it. Where the Cardinals have proven proficient in hitting with two outs, the Mets have struggled. Where the Cardinals have been able to drive home runners in scoring position, the Mets have stranded them on the basepaths.
Among other things, Tuesday's offensive struggles ensured that the Mets would not win a series at Busch Stadium for the first time in seven years, which is about how long the Mets' current funk seems to be lasting.
"You look at how we've lost the last two games, and when they've had opportunities, they've capitalized on them with base hits -- not home runs, base hits," Collins said. "We're coming up and we're not getting the hits."
"It just seems like all year we've been kind of searching to click top to bottom," Wright said. "We'd have a period where one or two guys get hot and the rest of the lineup's cold, or we'd have a week or two where that shifts and we have a different guy get hot. We haven't been able to -- from top to bottom, on a consistent basis -- have dangerous at-bats. Hopefully, that's to come. Give credit to the Cardinals' pitching staff -- they're always good. But we're not going up there and doing much damage."