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Friday, April 18, 2008

Cardinals let victory slip away

April 17, 2008 -- Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse pitched seven scoreless innings before allowing a run in the eighth.
(Chris Lee/P-D)Series won, opportunity lost.

A game that opened with a three-run lead and Kyle Lohse's quality start ended badly Thursday for the Cardinals. Rather than extend a home win streak to eight games, they were sent away by dancing Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder with a 5-3 10-inning loss and a reminder of their shortcomings.

For the first time this season the Cardinals squandered a game they controlled, costing them a three-game sweep. When Fielder yanked his 10th-inning home run, a two-run shot to right against Brad Thompson, he offered the difference in a game marred by the Cards' absence of clutch hitting, uncertain relief and a knee-deep bench.

"I thought it was just a game where runs and hits were hard to come by for both sides," Cardinals manager Tony

La Russa said. "We really didn't generate a lot. Sometimes it's three or four chances and you miss all those. But it wasn't that way."

Rather than take a 3½-game lead over the Brewers, the division-leading Cardinals (11-5) are up 1½ games on Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs.

The outcome negated right fielder Ryan Ludwick's first four-hit game, Lohse's third straight solid outing and the Brewers' inability to advance a runner into scoring position before the eighth inning.

Ludwick opened the scoring with a second-inning home run, scored the Cardinals' third run after a fourth-inning single and tried to fuel another rally with a 10th-inning double. Ludwick leads the team with 10 extra-base hits and a .390 average and is tied with 11 RBIs.

"Maybe I'm turning into the guy people thought I could be, or maybe I'm just focused and driven," Ludwick, 29, said after hitting his fourth home run in 17 at-bats.

Back-to-back doubles in the eighth cut the Cardinals' lead to 3-1, brought the tying run to the plate and chased Lohse before the first out.

"I felt more in line with what I'm out there trying to do," said Lohse, who sports a 1.48 ERA. "Mentally, I think that was my best one so far."

Reliever Ryan Franklin put the tying run on base when he hit .203-hitting second baseman Rickie Weeks with a two-strike pitch.

"We've been pounding him in early in the game and kept waiting for him to make an adjustment, and he didn't," Franklin said. "It just ran off on me a little bit; dang those baggy uniforms."

A bunt moved the tying run into scoring position and positioned Hernan Iribarren to score on left fielder Ryan Braun's sacrifice fly. Lefthander Randy Flores entered to face Fielder and used a down-and-away slider to get a shallow flare that fell near the left-field foul line for a game-tying double. "Good pitch, bad result," Flores said.

"You look at his spray chart and that's not where it's supposed to go," said left fielder Skip Schumaker, who had been stationed toward the left-center field gap. "Typically, he's pull, pull, pull."

Last year's NL home run champ returned two innings later searching for his first home run in 54 at-bats. He got it when Thompson left a 1-2 pitch over the plate.

"I'm just trying to get one backdoor down, and it ended up being right in his wheelhouse," Thompson said. "That's a lefthanded hitter's dream pitch right there, something you can drop the (bat) head on. He did."

Fielder celebrated at the entrance of the visitors' dugout with a dance. "I was trying to act tough, but I couldn't hold it," he said. "I was like a Little Leaguer. I was jumping up and down like a little kid."

The Cardinals replied with Ludwick's leadoff double and catcher Yadier Molina's walk against Eric Gagne. The game ended with Aaron Miles' fly ball, Rico Washington's strikeout and a Cesar Izturis' foul out.

Lefthanded reliever Brian Shouse took the win in return for a one-pitch outing against pinch hitter Chris Duncan. Gagne closed for his fourth save. But the Cardinals set up the loss with an inefficient offense earlier in the game.

Lohse's single in the third inning with the bases loaded and one out bumped the advantage to 3-0. The Cardinals reloaded the bases, but left fielder Brian Barton fouled out and center fielder Rick Ankiel, who struck out three times and failed to advance any of six baserunners, grounded to short. The Cards finished two for 12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12.

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