Several minutes after giving up a walk-off home run that severely dampened the
Cardinals chances of making the postseason, reliever Mitchell Boggs sat in full
uniform and stared into his locker.
When he finally composed himself enough to get up, Boggs spoke softly about a hanging slider that Alex Gonzalez drilled into the seats in left to give the Braves a 6-3, 12-inning win over the Cardinals at Turner Field.
"I was just trying to throw a breaking ball there and get a swing and miss," Boggs said. "I threw a good one the pitch before that and he didn't put a very good swing on it and I left it up in the zone and he beat me. That's all I can say.
"Yea I felt like I didn't back off an inch. That was everything I had and he hit the mistake I threw and you tip your cap to him. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of it and I just didn't."
The Cardinals clubhouse was eerily quiet following another on a long list of heartbreaking losses in 2010. There was no music. The TV's were turned off. The players showered, changed and left in almost pure silence.
But like many of the ones before them, it wasn't for a lack of effort.
Twice the Cardinals came back from deficits. Several times they worked themselves out of jams. But when Gonzalez' ball landed 415 feet away in left-field, the Cardinals were left with nothing but a seven game deficit in the N.L. Central and a 7.5 game deficit in the Wild Card with just 22 games remaining.
"It was a tremendous effort," said manager Tony La Russa. "We came back twice to tie and had a few chances. I don't think you can ask anymore from this club as far as the effort. We just got beat.
"We invested a lot in that ballgame. We didn't hold our best shot for any reason. You saw our best shot. It would have been a great win and it becomes a very tough loss."
The Cardinals fell into an early hole when Jake Westbrook uncharacteristically walked in a run with two outs. After walking just three batters in his seven previous starts with the Cardinals, Westbrook walked four in the first two innings.
Westbrook needed 50 pitches to get six outs, but allowed just one run. He ended up allowing just two runs in six innings, a remarkable finish to say the least. He left with the game tied at 2, only to see it change when the first hitter to lead off the seventh, Jason Heyward, launched his second home run in two career at-bats off Dennys Reyes.
The Cardinals had tied the game in the top of the sixth when Albert Pujols' two-run double stayed fair just inside the third base line. The hit put him at 101 RBIs for the season, marking his 10th straight season with at least 100 RBIs to start his career.
But with Matt Holliday batting and just one out, Pujols got a little greedy and tried to steal third base. A close call went against the Cardinals and Pujols was ruled out, erasing the potential go-ahead run from the base paths.
"Playing aggressive man," Pujols said. "Nobody can take that away from me. Playing aggressive. We were scuffling against the guy, he's pitching well, we haven't scored any run and I know Matt is swinging the bat pretty hot right now but I thought there was a pretty good chance. I got the green light and I just went.
"It was close, it could have gone both ways. I thought I got my foot in there but it doesn't matter what I thought. The play is over."
After Heyward's home run put the Braves back in front, the Cardinals came right back to tie the game in the top of the eight. With the bases loaded and one out, Pujols grounded into a fielder's choice to tie the game. It was 102nd RBI of the season, but the three-time MVP was looking for more.
"I had a pretty good chance with the bases loaded and I chased a bad pitch," Pujols said. "That's just the way it goes. Maybe if I would have had a better at bat with the bases loaded, maybe we wouldn't have played 13 innings or whatever we played. Obviously I chased a bad pitch and we tied the ballgame but I didn't do my job."
Ryan Franklin and Kyle McClellan combined for four scoreless innings to get the game to the bottom of the 12th, where Boggs struck out Brian McCann to start the inning. But former Cardinal Rick Ankiel worked a walk before a 1-2 slider to Gonzalez hung higher than Boggs had hoped and sent the Cardinals to another tough loss.
"He made some great pitches to get ahead and he hung a breaking ball," La Russa said. "But I'll tell you one thing. We have pitched the heck out of him. We have pushed him a lot. He's beating himself up more than he should."
The Cardinals will try to salvage a split in the series Sunday night, but time appears to be running out on the postseason.
Stuck somewhere in the middle of a long list of rough losses, the stale atmosphere in the Cardinals clubhouse may have said it all.
"That's the way it goes man," Pujols said. "It's part of the game and there's nothing you can do. If there was something we could do, I think we would have fixed it by now. It's just part of the game. We just need to keep fighting and fighting these three weeks and see what happens."
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