The Cardinals were all set to move to one game behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League wild-card chase before a ninth-inning collapse of near-epic proportions Thursday.
Leading the New York Mets 6-1 after seven innings and 6-2 after eight, three Cardinals relievers gave up six runs in the ninth inning and the Cardinals dropped a devastating 8-6 decision to the Mets.
Instead of being one game behind the Braves with six games to play, the Cardinals are two games back.
Closer Jason Motte, oddly entering with a four-run lead after getting four outs the night before, had walked leadoff man Willie Harris. Motte, after the error, came unglued a bit, walking two more hitters and forced home a run.
Right-hander Fernando Salas entered and permitted Ruben Tejada's game-tying, two-run double on which rookie left fielder Shane Robinson narrowly missed a diving attempt, the ball tipping off his glove.
Later, Harris singled home the go-ahead runs.
Manager Tony La Russa maintained a stiff upper lip afterward.
"We're disappointed, upset," he said. "But you make a big mistake if you think we're heartbroken. That means your heart's broken. We know what we put into the game. We didn't mail in a series win. We played our (butts) off and couldn't close it.
"It's disappointing. There are things we learned as to why we didn't finish it off. But don't make a mistake and say we're heartbroken. Our heart's beating. We won the series. Get ready for tomorrow."
As to why he used Motte first in the ninth, La Russa said: "That's the call that I made. If you had something different, you pick your guy. I wasn't going to take a chance with a four-run lead of letting them back in the game.
"And Motte was the guy that I thought could make it happen."
The Cardinals play the
Cubs at home for three games and are at
RF Lance Berkman, who has
had a bounce-back year by batting .300 with 31 home runs and 91 RBI, agreed to a
one-year deal for $12 million for 2012. Berkman, 35, said he was happy to get
the deal done before the arbitration and free-agent processes would take place.
"This is where I want to be," said the long-time
C Yadier Molina, batting over .300 with a personal best of 13 home runs, drove in a run and has a career-high 63 RBI.
1B Albert Pujols' 37th homer netted him his 98th RBI. He also reached base for the 38th consecutive game, a National League high this season.
LF Matt Holliday, who has a tendon problem in his right palm, graduated to taking swings against batting practice pitching in the indoor cage on Thursday, and he said his goal was to play before the end of the regular season. "I take one swing and it feels pretty good," said Holliday. "I take another swing and it feels pretty tender. I'd like to feel good enough to let it go."
BY THE NUMBERS: 899 - Appearances by LHP Arthur Rhodes, tied for 23rd on the career list.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I walked three guys and didn't throw strikes. Not good."
- RHP Jason Motte, on his and the Cardinals' ninth-inning meltdown.
LF Matt Holliday (inflamed tendon in middle finger of right hand) was injured while he was in the on-deck circle Sept. 13 and had to leave the game. An examination the next day revealed the inflammation, and it's questionable whether he will play again this season. He took batting practice in an indoor cage Sept. 22 and said his goal is to play before the end of the season.
RHP Adam Wainwright (Tommy John surgery in February 2011) went on the 60-day disabled list March 25. He will miss the entire 2011 season. Wainwright was getting closer to throwing a full-strength bullpen session in September, but he will not be allowed to throw his signature curveball until next year.
VIDEO FROM FOXSPORTSMIDWEST.COM
Tony La Russa and Jason Motte sound off on the 8-6 loss against the Mets on Thursday night.