Loading the bases with one out and down by a run in the bottom of the ninth, rookies Nick Stavinoha and Joe Mather whiffed their way back into the dugout to give the Cardinals their second straight loss, 5-4, to the Phillies on Sunday night.
As the fans bemoaned the Cardinals' sixth home loss in seven games -- this one surely theirs for the taking -- the Redbirds quietly left Busch Stadium before they welcome the Dodgers and Manny Ramirez to town on Tuesday.
"[Lidge] took advantage of a couple of young hitters," manager Tony La Russa said. "He didn't throw strikes, but he threw pitches that were hard to lay off of ... That's a really tough night. We deserved better."
Taking a 2-1 lead into the eighth, La Russa handed the keys to reliable Russ Springer with two outs. Only Springer faltered, giving up his first earned runs since July 6. He had only allowed two earned runs since May 8.
Inheriting runners from Kyle McClellan and Jaime Garcia, Springer gave up an RBI single to Pat Burrell and a three-run home run to Shane Victorino to put the Redbirds in a 5-2 hole. Much to the dismay of the Cardinals, Springer's one bad pitch to Victorino gave the bullpen its 24th loss of the year -- tying them for most in the Majors.
La Russa said Springer had been used too much recently, and blamed the decision on himself for putting an overworked pitcher into a tight spot. However, Springer thought otherwise.
"I got called on to get one out in a clutch situation," Springer said. "No matter how much I've been used, I should still be able to suck it up and get one hitter out."
Having personified themselves with a scrappy mentality, the Cardinals had their chances late. In both of the final two innings, they loaded the bases unable to come up with enough to overcome their opponent.
Brendan Ryan singled to open the eighth and scored from third base when Howard bobbled a ground ball from Stavinoha. Mather was hit by a pitch and Albert Pujols walked on four pitches. But Ryan Ludwick could not bring the Cardinals any closer.
Batting at a .373 clip since the All-Star break entering Sunday's game, the Cardinals hottest hitter swung at a first-pitch fastball over the heart of the plate against a wild Ryan Madson, but rolled into an inning-ending double play.
"To me, it doesn't matter if he walked [Pujols] on four pitches, or six pitches or whatever," Ludwick said. "When you're in that situation, you're looking for a good pitch to hit ... You're looking for a fastball right over the middle of the plate. You get a fastball right over the middle of the plate, you swing. You don't take it."
Needing a catalyst, Troy Glaus homered off Lidge to lead off the ninth. After Aaron Miles singled, Rick Ankiel sharply hit a ground ball that took a hop over Howard's head, putting the tying run 90 feet away and sending Busch Stadium into a frenzy. Lidge struck Cesar Izturis in the arm with a fastball to load the bases, but recovered to strike out Stavinoha and Mather.
Starter Todd Wellemeyer did all but deliver the goods, limiting a powerful Phillies offense to just four hits over six innings. Making up for his last start against the Phillies --a forgettable outing -- on June 13, Wellemeyer received a no-decision and has won only once in his past nine starts.
"Last time I faced these guys, I was hurting pretty bad," Wellemeyer said. "I didn't have anything last time. so I'm glad I got to see them again."
Commanding the early part of the game, the Cardinals struck first off Ludwick's bat. Ludwick doubled off Brett Myers and scored on Glaus' single. Ludwick continued his success at the plate in the fourth, homering for the fourth time in the past three games. He finished the day 2-for-3 with a walk, but it was the last at-bat -- a missed opportunity -- that stung him the most.
"I don't feel like I'm in the zone," Ludwick said. "If I was in the zone, I would have gotten the job done."
Lee Hurwitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.