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Defense costs Cardinals in loss to Padres

By Joe Strauss, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

SAN DIEGO — They got a long-awaited quality start on the road and created baserunners almost at a whim. What the St. Louis Cardinals couldn’t accomplish Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres was a well-played fourth inning.

Falling victim to defensive issues that have become more pronounced since shortstop Rafael Furcal’s loss to a sprained elbow ligament, the Cardinals and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (11-11) saw a 2-0 lead evaporate in a five-run rally responsible for their 6-4 loss at Petco Park.

An infield error ignited the game’s telling rally. An inability to glove either of two subsequent grounders fed the threat. A double and a triple left Wainwright with three unearned runs and a 5-2 deficit.

Wainwright stopped the Cardinals’ recent run of road games without a quality start at 12. The stand did not keep him from exiting the game trailing 5-4 because of a fourth inning complicated by an error, two infield singles, a bases-loaded walk and a curious approach against the Padres’ No. 8 hitter.

The Padres did more with less than the Cardinals, who stranded nine runners in the first six innings after working six walks and benefiting from two Padres errors.

Padres starting pitcher Edinson Volquez entered with one win in seven previous career starts against the Cardinals. He was hardly efficient, needing 108 pitches to work 5 1/3 innings. The Cardinals nicked him for runs in the second and third innings before placing two runners to open the sixth against him. Several times the ex-Cincinnati Reds pitcher ducked knockout chances.

The Cardinals loaded the bases before scoring once in the second inning and again left the bases loaded during a two-error third inning.

Leading 2-0, Wainwright worked against a team he had built a 1.07 ERA against in seven previous outings, including four starts. Seldom had he been backed by a less certain defense.

When shortstop Pete Kozma threw high on right fielder Will Venable’s one-out ground ball, the Padres seized an opportunity by producing two well-placed ground balls and smoking two extra-base hits.

With second baseman Skip Schumaker shaded toward the bag, third baseman Chase Headley reached by threading a roller to Schumaker’s left. Schumaker stopped the ball but couldn’t control it.

Catcher Yasmani Grandal then grounded to third baseman David Freese’s backhand. Freese dove after the ball, which he smothered but failed to glove.

With the bases loaded without benefit of a ball leaving the infield, the Padres then scored their first run when Wainwright forced home a run on a 3-2 breaking pitch to first baseman Yonder Alonso. Second baseman Logan Forsythe immediately gave the Padres a lead when he drove a double into the left-center field gap.

Schumaker threw home to get the inning’s second out on a ground ball.

Needing only to slip by No. 8 hitter Alexi Amarista, Wainwright instead hung a curveball where it could be ripped for a two-run triple as Volquez stood on deck.

Kozma’s too-high throw became the Cardinals’ 11th error in 10 games, a span that coincides with Furcal’s stay on the disabled list. A team of walking wounded and limited range has offered little assistance to a pitching staff long schooled on efficiency rather than dominance. Entering Tuesday, the Cardinals had managed double-digit assists in only 12 of their previous 22 games.

For the rest of the night the Cardinals chipped away. Schumaker’s leadoff walk in the sixth inning led to a run following Kozma’s single and center fielder Jon Jay’s single after trailing 0-2 in the count. The Cardinals had runners at first and third with one out but did nothing more as Carlos Beltran fouled out and Matt Holliday drove a fly ball to deep right-center field.

Freese got the Cardinals within 5-4 in the seventh inning when he launched his 19th home run two pitches after a streaker interrupted his plate appearance against Brad Brach.

Another chance slipped past in the eighth inning when the Cardinals again put runners at first and third with one out and the meat of their batting order approaching. Holliday nubbed a first-pitch grounder handled by the catcher for the inning’s second out. First baseman Allen Craig then bounced to the mound to end the threat. The Cardinals stranded 12 runners before the ninth inning.

The Padres took advantage when center fielder Cameron Maybin drove a two-out single that scored the first earned run off reliever Edward Mujica in 19 appearances since he arrived via trade from the Miami Marlins.

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