Having already won their series at Nationals Park, having already taken the first game of a doubleheader by a 4-1 score, the Cardinals did not seal or stamp the envelope to mail in Thursday night's game. They rallied from holes of 7-0 and 8-3, giving them plenty to hang their hat on despite the defeat.
Still, even weary smiles won't be visible until after the club's charter flight arrives in Houston. For all the good, this one was a punch in the gut.
"It was just a great effort," said manager Tony La Russa. "A tough game to lose. Really a brutal game to lose. We did so many good things that you've got to feel great about our effort, even though the result in the end was disappointing."
Elijah Dukes cranked a two-run walk-off home run to end the game, capping a career night for the young outfielder. Ryan Franklin, who picked up the save when St. Louis won Game 1 of the day-night doubleheader, served up the game-ending homer and was charged with the loss.
Franklin hung a slider to a dangerous hitter, and Dukes did what he's capable of doing. Dukes hit it to the deepest part of the ballpark, well over 400 feet to dead center.
"I threw a couple of good [sliders] to him," Franklin said. "But that last one, I think I tried to make it too perfect. Just trying to get it down and away and make him chase like he did that other one. And I didn't get it there."
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is that Franklin didn't get a chance to redeem himself, because nearly everyone else who played the goat at some point for St. Louis -- and there were several of them -- later enjoyed a hero's turn.
Most notable was starter Mike Parisi, who struggled mightily on the mound. The rookie right-hander hit a two-run double for his first Major League hit and RBIs in the fourth. That followed Troy Glaus' solo homer in a three-run inning that pulled the Redbirds within 7-3.
Parisi was charged with the first eight Washington runs, though three were unearned, as he made it two rocky starts in as many chances at the Major League level. He was battered for 10 base hits and walked four men, striking out one.
"There's not one point in the game that really makes or breaks the game," Parisi said. "My outing out there, I was pretty much all over the place again. I tried to keep on changing my approach and keep on changing my plan, but I was leaving the ball up in the zone. And in the big leagues, you can't pitch up in the zone."
It didn't help that Parisi was betrayed by some shaky defense, as Skip Schumaker misplayed a ball into an RBI triple in the first and dropped a sure catch for a costly two-base error in the second. Schumaker's error came with two outs and was the first play in a three-run outburst that made it 5-0 Washington after two innings.
"There's no excuse for that play, especially the one in right that I dropped," Schumaker said. "It's embarrassing that that even happens, and the only excuse for that is it was a lack of concentration, because that ball has got to be caught. It's ridiculous."
Yet like Parisi, Schumaker later had a moment as the star. Trailing 8-6 in the ninth, he drilled an RBI triple to pull within a run, and he scored on Aaron Miles' infield single that forced extra innings. The Cards might have taken the lead in the ninth, but Albert Pujols was called out on strikes on a ball that replays showed to be well out of the strike zone.
Reliever Mark Worrell homered in the first at-bat of his big league career, a three-run shot in the sixth that made it 8-6. Both Worrell and Parisi found themselves having to hit in situations where they normally might not have. That's because of the doubleheader, which left both bullpens thin and led La Russa to keep both pitchers in the game past when he ideally might have preferred.
In between Parisi and Franklin, Worrell was one of five relievers who combined to pitch five innings of shutout relief. But Dukes, who had a career game at the plate and also put on a fine showing in the field, hammered a 2-2 pitch to give the home team the victory.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.