Cardinals waste chances in 3-2 loss to Phillies

JIM SALTER - Associated Press
AP
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St. Louis Cardinals' David Freese reacts after striking out swinging during the fourth inning of Game 3 of baseball's National League division series against the Philadelphia Phillies, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Albert Pujols did his part and the Cardinals had plenty of chances.

They just never came up with that big hit.

St. Louis stranded 14 runners and squandered a bases-loaded threat in the eighth inning with Pujols on deck during a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of their National League playoff Tuesday.

It was a huge missed opportunity for the Cardinals, who also wasted a strong showing by starter Jaime Garcia. He had the Phillies shut out on four hits until pinch-hitter Ben Francisco's three-run homer with two outs in the seventh provided all the offense for Philadelphia.

"It was a heartbreaker," Pujols said. "Jaime was cruising pretty much the whole game. Just one ball up, a good swing and there you go, out of the park."

Trailing 2-1 in the best-of-five matchup, the Cardinals must win Wednesday to send the series back to Philadelphia for a decisive fifth game. Edwin Jackson, acquired at the trade deadline, starts for St. Louis against Roy Oswalt.

Cole Hamels pitched six shutout innings for the win, striking out eight, but the Cardinals put runners on base in each of those innings with five hits, three walks and a hit batter. After Hamels left, St. Louis got a run in the seventh on David Freese's two-out single off Vance Worley, but left the potential tying runs on base when Yadier Molina flied out softly to right.

St. Louis loaded the bases in the eighth. Ryan Theriot, who was 4 for 5, led off with a single. An out later, Matt Holliday — limited to pinch-hitting duty because of a finger injury — singled off Brad Lidge, and Rafael Furcal followed with a single.

But closer Ryan Madson came in and Allen Craig's smash to second was turned into a double play.

It was no huge surprise: St. Louis hit into a National League-record 169 double plays during the regular season.

"That's the first time I've used Madson for four outs or five outs," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I figured the game was right there on the line and we had to stop them."

St. Louis cut the margin to 3-2 in the ninth on Pujols' third double of the game — he also went 4 for 5 — and a two-out single by Molina. But Theriot bounced to second to end the game with the potential tying run at first.

The Phillies got a leadoff single from Shane Victorino in the seventh and he moved up on a passed ball. Garcia got two outs before Cardinals manager Tony La Russa opted to intentionally walk No. 8 batter Carlos Ruiz to bring up Hamels' spot.

Manuel countered with Francisco, who was 1 for 18 in his previous postseason at-bats and 1 for 9 lifetime against Garcia.

Ruiz "just terrorizes us," La Russa said. "And he'd already hit two balls hard. I made the decision. Francisco has had a tough time with Jaime. It really wasn't a tough call."

Garcia threw only 74 pitches through six innings, but needed 26 more in the seventh.

Hamels seemed to labor at times, throwing 117 pitches and working in and out of trouble. He struck out Freese with two on to end the first and got Garcia on a groundout with two on to end the fourth. Hamels also fanned Garcia with two on to end the sixth.

The late-afternoon start created a mix of blinding sunshine and dark shadows that gave both pitchers an early advantage. Hitters seemed to struggle at times to pick up the spin of pitches. About a month ago, after an afternoon home loss to the Brewers, several Cardinals players complained about the shadows and urged against scheduling late-afternoon games.

Fielders had a hard time dealing with the visibility, too. Philadelphia had two third-inning hits on balls that seemed to be affected by visibility — a single by Ruiz that bounced over the head of Freese after the third baseman took a step in, and a soft liner by Jimmy Rollins that center fielder John Jay lost in the sun. But Chase Utley grounded out to end the threat.

With 102 regular-season wins, Philadelphia is now a game from advancing to the NL championship series. But La Russa said his team, which fought back from a 10½-game deficit in late August to make the playoffs as the wild card, won't give up.

"The club has responded," La Russa said. "The heart and guts that this club has demonstrated, rallying like they did, is just off the charts. No doubt in my mind you'll see that again tomorrow."

NOTES: Rollins had two hits for Philadelphia and is 7 for 11 in the series. ... It was La Russa's 67th birthday, and pitcher Kyle Lohse's 32nd birthday. ... Garcia threw first-pitch strikes to his first 10 hitters. ... The Cardinals stole three bases in the first four innings. They totaled 57 during the regular season, second-lowest in the majors. ... Placido Polanco singled in the ninth, ending an 0-for-29 slump against St. Louis in the postseason. He was 0 for 17 with Detroit in the 2006 World Series. ... Counting the postseason, Theriot is 10 for 24 against Hamels.