Unlike in their previous two games, when they squandered offensive chances, the Cardinals simply didn't create opportunities on Wednesday. Right-hander John Maine held the Redbirds down over seven one-hit, shutout innings, taking a no-hit bid into the fifth. The Cardinals scored two runs in the three-game series.
"Give Maine credit," said manager Tony La Russa, "but we're capable of much better production. We didn't have a good hitting series. We didn't play real well. So we had three games that weren't all that competitive."
Looper matched Maine pitch-for-pitch through five, but flagged in his final frame. Carlos Beltran pulled a two-run homer just inside the right-field foul pole with one out in the sixth. That was all the offense the Mets needed, but certainly not all that they got.
"I felt great," said Looper, who made 572 relief appearances before his first big-league start. "I just got ahead of [Beltran] 0-2. I was trying to bury the ball in and I left it over the plate. You've got to give him credit. He still hit it out even though it was 0-2. It was just a stupid mistake."
After the Beltran dinger, David Wright reached on an infield hit, and then Looper issued his first walk of the game to Moises Alou. Shawn Green singled to make it 3-0 before Looper got out of the inning. He finished with a quality start, three runs on eight hits through six frames.
It got ugly after that, though. Bullpen troubles and a third outfield error in as many games turned a fairly close game into a rout.
Josh Hancock permitted a pair of solo homers in the seventh, including Beltran's second. By the time New York scored five runs off Russ Springer in the eighth, the hill was clearly too tall for the St. Louis offense to climb.
"It only takes one thing for things to get out of hand quickly, and I was the catalyst for that," Hancock said. "After that, they were eager to get in the box and start hitting."
In the eighth, they were also aided by some defensive foibles. After a leadoff walk, Preston Wilson lost Moises Alou's blooper in the lights, allowing it to drop for a single. Following another walk and a strikeout, Wilson booted a Julio Franco fly ball that would have been a sacrifice fly. Instead, Franco reached second and two runs scored.
"The flare that Alou hit, that ball just hung up in the lights," Wilson said. "All you can do is wait for it to come out. If you run past it, it may go for extra bases. So the best thing to do is kind of wait for it to come out. But the one Franco hit, it just kept tailing away from me. It's a play that I would like to make, and I think I can make it. [It's just that] I didn't make it that time."
|"You've just got to be able to turn the page and get ready to go for Friday night. You don't think about whether we're playing well or not. You've just got to go out there and make plays."|
|-- David Eckstein|
"I wish it would have been a little different," he said. "We've got to get that first win sometime, and hopefully I get to be a part of it."
The Cardinals only sniffed at Maine once. Scott Rolen singled in the fifth for St. Louis' first hit, and Jim Edmonds drew a walk to put two on with no outs. But Wilson struck out, Yadier Molina lined out to third base and Aaron Miles flied out, and Rolen didn't even get to third.
"We got one rally all game," La Russa said. "That's not making enough happen. We're better than that."
Chris Duncan laced a double off Aaron Sele with one out in the ninth inning for the Cardinals' second hit. Sele then struck out Albert Pujols looking and got Rolen to ground to shortstop to end the game.
Cardinals hitters were 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position in the three-game series. They scored two runs in 27 innings and did not get on the board before the sixth inning in any of those contests.
"We went out there and we got beat three straight games," David Eckstein said. "And when you do that, people are going to start asking questions. You've just got to be able to turn the page and get ready to go for Friday night. You don't think about whether we're playing well or not. You've just got to go out there and make plays."
The Cardinals are 0-3 for the first time since 2001. They haven't opened a season 0-4 since 1997, when they lost their first six games. St. Louis is the first defending World Series champion to drop its first three games since the 1984 Orioles, who started 0-4.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.