Mulder struggles as Cards fall

Mulder struggles as Cards fall

MILWAUKEE -- The Cardinals' post-clinch doldrums can officially be called a funk, and that funk has swallowed up what previously was the team's most reliable aspect: starting pitching.

For the second straight night, St. Louis' starter struggled, as Mark Mulder endured the shortest outing of his Major League career. The Cards lost, 8-7, on Saturday, giving them only their third three-game losing streak of the season. St. Louis has lost five out of six games since clinching an outright division title on Sept. 17, the club's worst stretch since losing five of six from Sept. 27-Oct. 2 of last year.

Mulder was chased after 1 2/3 innings, allowing seven earned runs a day after Chris Carpenter was charged with nine. A starting rotation that has been as good as any in the National League has had a difficult go of things lately. Over the past six games, Cardinals starters are 1-2 with an 8.07 ERA, averaging 4.8 innings per start.

"Me and Carp were saying, in like the second inning, when I was up here already, they must have the best team in baseball right now," Mulder said. "I don't know. It happened so quick I wasn't even mad about it. Carp came in and we just kind of joked about it. 'Best offense ever.' They killed us. I know I didn't make very good pitches today, so I think any big-league team is going to hit that."

Mulder had turned in six fine starts in a row, not allowing more than two runs in any of those games while going at least seven innings every time. He hadn't allowed more than one homer in a game since early July, but he was touched for two long balls in one inning on Saturday.

Albert Pujols' RBI double gave Mulder the lead before he took the mound, and he rolled through a hitless first inning. But he gave up consecutive doubles to start the second and never really recovered.

It could have been even worse, but Mulder was helped by an 8-6-2 putout of Geoff Jenkins as Jenkins tried to score from second on Bill Hall's double. After the double by Hall, Mulder hit Jeff Cirillo with a pitch, then served up a three-run homer to Chad Moeller. A walk to pitcher Gary Glover (4-4) set up Brady Clark, who hit the second dinger of the inning to make it 5-1 Milwaukee.

"It's just one of those days," Mulder said. "There's nothing you can do about it. I felt really good. It was probably one of my best bullpens of the year, that's what's funny, warming up. But I just had probably a little bit too much energy.

"It had been a while since I pitched, and I tried to throw a little bit more in the bullpen. That's not in any way an excuse. It's just, the ball was up and everything was over the middle of the plate. That explains enough."

Mulder faced 10 Brewers in the second before finally giving way to Brad Thompson. Anthony Reyes, who made his first big-league start at Miller Park on Aug. 9, pitched four strong innings in relief to keep the Cards in the game before a late rally.

"I just look at it as a way to prove that I belong here," said Reyes, who has a 2.92 ERA, 12 strikeouts and three walks in 12 1/3 Major League innings. "The trick for me is to try to stay as sharp as I can. So I take advantage of when I play catch before the game. When I go out on the mound, I just try to focus on keeping the ball down and throwing strikes."

Randy Flores and Jason Isringhausen each pitched a shutout inning, and it was 8-3 Brewers going into the ninth. St. Louis rallied for four runs, highlighted by Chris Duncan's two-run double -- the first hit and RBIs of Duncan's career.

"That was one of the highlights," said manager Tony La Russa. "[Skip] Schumaker gets a hit to start the rally. ... It was exciting there at the end. [Scott] Seabol had a great swing. [Hector] Luna had a great swing, great at-bat against [Derrick] Turnbow. That part of it was fun."

The end result was not, however, and the Cards have lost back-to-back series for the first time all year.

"That's not how we've pitched all year," La Russa said. "Sometimes Sinatra had to clear his throat, too. But mostly, it's [that I'm] impressed with the Brewers."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.