Sorry, Jaime: Cardinals can’t take advantage of Garcia’s strong start

ST. LOUIS — Jason Heyward dropped his bat, then threw his helmet in disgust before slipping off his batting gloves and walking slowly down the first-base line.

Matt Holliday graciously brought Heyward his hat and glove to give him a chance to further walk out his frustration after a foul pop-up ended a rare chance for the Cardinals to score against Milwaukee starter Mike Fiers. The unceremonious end to the sixth inning left two men on base and typified the offensive night for the Cardinals, who wasted seven strong innings by Jaime Garcia in a 1-0 loss Monday night.

"They made those pitches," said Heyward. "We had the at-bats. We were obviously in the game."

Fiers entered the series opener as one of the unluckiest starting pitchers in baseball, sporting a .386 opponents batting average on balls in play and a 3.40 expected fielding independent pitching, more than a full run below his 4.58 ERA. In two of his five losses, he gave up only two earned runs in at least five innings of work.

That poor run support continued from one of the National League’s worst offenses, thanks to Garcia’s effective sinker and quality control on his fastball. After giving up a two-out RBI single to Carlos Gomez in the first, the Cardinals’ lefty wouldn’t allow another hit until Gomez’s infield single with one out in the seventh.

But for the second time in his three starts, Garcia didn’t get a single run of support from his offense. Unlike New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom in his eight-inning, 11-strikeout gem, though, Fiers gave St. Louis considerable hope.

"We had him a little bit against the ropes, too, had him almost at 40 pitches in two innings with a bullpen that was really running on fumes after 17 innings yesterday," Matheny said. "He ends up in the sixth with 100 pitches and it’s just impressive."

As they so often do, second baseman Kolten Wong singled and Holliday walked to set the table in the first inning for cleanup hitter Jhonny Peralta. The shortstop struck out looking and Molina grounded out to third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who stepped on the bag to end the threat.

Molina followed Peralta’s two-out walk with a single in the sixth to set up Heyward, but the powerful lefty said a good cutter jammed him on the 3-2 pitch. Fiers escaped to lower his ERA against the Cardinals to 1.45 in seven career starts.

Wong and Holliday again came through to set up St. Louis’ best opportunity in the eighth against the Brewers’ bullpen. But with Wong on third, Jeremy Jeffress struck out the Cardinals’ RBI leader, Peralta, and Molina to preserve Milwaukee’s lead.

"You hate to think you only have one opportunity a game, but in a 1-0 game, first and third, one out, something that I know we take a lot of pride in getting the job done," Matheny said. "Missed that one and then obviously had a little something in the ninth, but a pretty tall order against their closer."

Heyward took a step toward redemption with the Cardinals’ eighth single of the game and stole second on Francisco Rodriguez’s second strikeout of the inning. But after a Peter Bourjos walk, Wong became the sixth St. Louis hitter to come up empty with runners in scoring position on a groundball to first baseman Jason Rogers.

"We had a couple opportunities but didn’t string a lot together," Matheny said. "It was just one of those offensively frustrating nights for our guys."

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