Anthony Reyes pitched admirably, albeit inefficiently, as the Cardinals lost their eighth straight game Tuesday night. Reyes permitted two runs over five innings in a 3-1 defeat that gave St. Louis its longest skid since July 4-15, 1988.
The Cards' lead remained at 1 1/2 games over second-place Cincinnati, but Milwaukee pulled within four games in third place. Fourth-place Houston, the defending National League champion, lurks five games back. The Cards have been outscored, 68-28, over their slide.
"You have to go through some tough times," said Albert Pujols, who went 1-for-4. "Who has a magic ball to say that we're going to have a great season without going through a tough time? Hopefully this only happens once and we don't have to worry about it later on."
In a Cards slump that has often been marked by ineffective starting pitching, Reyes has been an undeniable strong point. He followed up his one-hitter against the White Sox with a grinding performance Tuesday, but once again took the loss.
This was a much different showing, as Reyes, by his own admission, wasn't as sharp as he would have liked. But he worked around trouble and certainly gave his team a chance to win a ballgame.
"In Chicago, I was able to get ahead for the most part," he said. "Today I was a little shaky with command. I was doing the best I could to put it in places where they couldn't do too much damage."
Reyes (1-2) was undone by an early loss of command, a problem that had yet to plague him in his previous Major League starts. Seven straight balls were quickly followed by a two-run Ronnie Belliard home run in the first, and though Reyes allowed no more runs, the early damage was enough.
That's because C.C. Sabathia (6-4) coldly and cleanly knifed his way through the Cardinals order, not allowing a runner past first base after the third inning. Sabathia had struggled in recent starts, but against a Cardinals team that hasn't put together all the facets of the game in a week and a half, the lefty showed what he was capable of.
Reyes opened the game by quickly getting ahead of leadoff batter Grady Sizemore, working an 0-2 count on the dangerous center fielder. However, things quickly turned sour, as the next four pitches to Sizemore were balls, resulting in a walk.
"I tried to give him some changeups, but it was just one of those days where I didn't really have any pitch that was working really good," Reyes said. "I was just trying to get them to beat the ball into the ground."
Against the next hitter, Belliard, Reyes fell behind 3-0 -- making it seven straight balls -- before serving up the second baseman's homer on a 3-1 count.
"I left that ball over the middle of the plate," Reyes said. "Got behind and threw that ball down the middle and paid for it."
Still, Reyes once again earned the admiration of his manager and teammates. He worked through five innings without giving up another run, stranding a total of six runners and not allowing a hit with a runner in scoring position.
"I think [the] overall [performance] is what you evaluate," said manager Tony La Russa. "A lot of starters in the first inning look a little different. That was another example of how special he can be."
A hard, but brief rainstorm struck in the fifth with two Indians on base. Reyes came back out to escape the inning, but was lifted for the sixth.
In the bottom of that frame came what may have been the Cardinals' best chance to tie the game or take a lead. David Eckstein reached with a leadoff single, his second of three hits.
Each of the next three batters made hard contact, but each hit a line drive that stayed up a little too much and landed in an outfielder's glove. Eckstein never made it past first as So Taguchi, Pujols and Scott Rolen all lined out.
"So put a nice swing on a ball to right, Albert hit the ball to center and Scott hit a line drive," La Russa said. "But when you play nine innings and that was your best shot, that shows you they're pitching good against you."
Busch Stadium came to life one last time, in the ninth. Juan Encarnacion beat out an infield single, bringing up Jim Edmonds. Given Edmonds' flair for the dramatic, the sellout crowd came to its feet in anticipation, but Edmonds grounded out to end the game.
No Cardinals team has lost nine or more games in a row since May 15-25, 1980, when St. Louis lost 10 straight.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.