ST. LOUIS — Cardinals manager Mike Matheny called off batting practice Friday in part because he sensed enough frustration in his hitters he believed a bit of a break would serve them well.
The Cardinals were frustrated for a third straight day at Busch Stadium, losing 5-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies. St. Louis has totaled four runs in a skid that has come just when the team was on its best roll of the season.
Losing to A.J. Burnett might have been the most bitter loss of the week. Burnett, remember, lasted only two innings at Busch Stadium in the Cardinals’ 9-1 playoff-opening win last year and was passed over for the Game 5 start. He lasted a lot more than two innings this time, completing a seven-hitter for his fifth win against six losses.
"He didn’t make any mistakes," said Matt Adams, who grounded out in all four of his at-bats. "He kept the ball down and was hitting his spots."
The Cardinals put at least one runner on in each of the first five innings, but Matt Holliday’s two-out single in the third was the the only hit they could muster with a runner in scoring position.
Double plays killed two potential rallies, including one in the first when Matt Holliday grounded into a 4-6-3 on a 3-0 count. Kolten Wong came up with two on in the fourth but hit a comebacker to Burnett that was converted into a 1-6-3 inning-ender.
From then on, the Cardinals went quietly. Allen Craig, who doubled with two outs in the eighth, was their only baserunner in the final four innings. They struck out only three times but Burnett got 17 outs via grounders, including 13 of the first 15.
"We’ll come tomorrow, ready to go, try to fix it, try to take good at-bats, try to win the game," Yadier Molina said. "We’re trying, definitely we’re trying."
Maybe even too much.
"This team cares as much as any team I’ve ever seen as far as how hard they’re wearing some of the personal struggles," Matheny said. "You can see it almost getting to the point of unhealthy."
If frustration can make one ill, the Cardinals could use a health check.
— Molina. He came in 4 for 25 against Burnett but doubled in the second and singled in the fourth to extend his hitting streak to five games. He also had to fight moths that descended on the stadium once darkness came. A couple even got into his mask. "That was tough," Molina admitted. "As bad as I ever played with."
— Adams’ defense. A night after making one highlight play, he came up with three more, including another diving snatch of a one-hop smash down the first-base line. Adams also started a nifty 3-6-3 double play before he made a rare defensive gaffe on the very next play when umpires ruled he did not get a foot on the base in time to record the putout on Marlon Bryd’s grounder to short.
Adams nearly made a second error when Ryan Howard’s grounder bounced off his leg but Trevor Rosenthal, though stumbling, was able to roll the ball to first in time and, thanks to Howard jumping over Rosenthal, everyone was able to avoid a collision.
Still, Adams prevented a lot more damage than he caused and, listening to the Phillies’ radio broadcast on one of the plays, their announcers were duly impressed.
— Adam Wainwright. When you need a stopper, he is the man to call. Six of Wainwright’s first seven wins followed a Cardinals loss, and the one that didn’t came on Opening Day. Wainwright says he’s 100 percent ready to go after missing his scheduled start Monday to alleviate what he called a spot of tendinitis on the back of his right elbow.
— Jaime Garcia. He struck out six and didn’t allow a run through the first four innings but then the electricity flipped off. He gave up three doubles — Adams saved a fourth — in the fifth inning as the Phillies took a 2-1 lead. In the sixth, he served a changeup right down the middle that Marlon Byrd, whom he had struck out twice, knocked over the left-field fence. Domonic Brown followed with a double and Garcia’s night was done.
What happened between the fourth and fifth? "I don’t know," Garcia said. "Trying to find out."
Molina had a pretty good idea: "He left a lot of pitches in the middle of the plate. They hit it hard."
Garcia said he felt fine and the 50-minute delay to the start of the game did not bother him even though he had completed his warmups. "Went out the first inning, felt really good," he said. "Tough, tough loss for the team."
— Replay challenges. Matheny continues to be frustrated by the new system, possibly because the plays are too close for the umpires to overturn. Matheny lost on two challenges at first base, one when Adams appeared to get a foot on the base before Byrd, the other when Adams was called out on a grounder to short.
"I believe the system is right," he said. "I believe the system is trying to push technology forward in a way that could be useful for us, but it has frustrated us probably more than anything else at this point. Things we’re seeing are not being seen at the office back in New York. It’s helped us very little and hurt us a lot."
— Seth Maness. He continues to have trouble getting ground balls, his specialty last year. Maness faced five batters and induced two grounders, though one doesn’t really count because it was a scorcher that likely would have gone for a double if it had not been snared by Adams. Maness also walked one and allowed a run for the second time in his past three outings.