Defensive blunders, limited offense haunt Cardinals in Game 3 loss

LOS ANGELES — Certainly, the Cardinals are an excellent team. To take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series, they have to be.

Still, they’re not good enough to give away games and reach the World Series. Remember last year? Up 3-1 in the NLCS, the Cardinals handed the Giants four runs in Game 5, their bats turned cold and they ended up at home for the World Series.

The Cardinals’ 3-0 loss to the Dodgers Monday night didn’t quite feel like Game 5 in 2012. In that one, one bad play by Lance Lynn led to four unearned runs. In this one, two misplays resulted in a pair of Dodgers’ runs and another miscue cost the Cardinals their best chance of scoring.

If you don’t think that was handing the Dodgers a victory, even the Cardinals admitted to giving them way more assistance than is recommended.

“We made a few mistakes that we normally don’t make,” said Daniel Descalso, responsible for a base-running blunder that thwarted their only real scoring chance. “When you do that, you’re going to lose.”

To review the blunders:

There was no score when two-hole hitter Mark Ellis led off the Dodgers’ fourth with what appeared to be a routine fly to right center. The ball, however, fell between Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran for a two-base hit and two batters later, the Dodgers’ scoreless streak was over at 22 innings.

“I was playing down the (right-field) line and as soon as the ball was hit, I was trying to back him up,” said Beltran. “He saw me, he anticipated I was going to catch it. That ball should be caught.”

Jay concurred. “That’s a ball I gotta catch,” he said. “I’m the center fielder. That’s my ball.”

But what happened? “I just have to catch the ball.”

Did you hear Beltran call you off? “That was on me,” Jay said. “I have to take charge and catch the balls.”

Jay failed to make three other catches that could have been made, though none of those led to runs. While two of the three would have been considered highlight-type plays, he let a ball land between him and second baseman Matt Carpenter in the first inning that proved to foreshadow his and the Cardinals’ night.

The Dodgers were up 2-0 in the fifth when David Freese and Matt Adams both singled to put Cardinals on first and second with no outs. Freese, however, injured his right calf on his hit and had to exit the game when he reached second.

In went Descalso to pinch run, and he promptly was doubled up when he inexplicably headed to third too early when Jay blooped a fly to left field. At worst, the Cardinals still would have had two on and one out. Instead, all Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu had to do to get out of the inning was retire light-hitting Pete Kozma, which he did on a grounder to third.

“I thought (the hit) was jammed more and was going to fall in,” Descalso said. “Once I realized it was being caught, I was too far way from second. It’s a terrible feeling. I just misread it.”

That was the only time all night the Cardinals got a runner as far as second.

So perhaps Kolten Wong’s mistake in the eighth did not matter. The Dodgers already led 2-0 when, with speedy Carl Crawford on second, Hanley Ramirez blooped a hit to shallow right-center.

Wong, who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the top of the inning, retrieved the ball but instead of hustling it to the infield, the rookie second baseman nonchalanted his relay to Descalso at second. Crawford zipped home and slid in just ahead of Yadier Molina’s tag after the throw from Descalso.

The resulting 3-0 lead felt double that the way the Cardinals weren’t hitting. Handling the Cardinals even more effectively than he did when he beat them in St. Louis, Ryu gave up only three singles and one walk in seven shutout innings. The Cardinals have been limited to one run and six hits in the two games.

Before the game, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was asked what lessons the Cardinals might have gained from their collapse in last year’s NLCS.

“What we learned is just how fragile this is and how quickly it can get away from you,” Matheny said.

They didn’t seem to learn well enough, though.
 
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.