The Cardinals pulled out a 7-6 victory over Cincinnati on Friday night when Troy Glaus delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly in the ninth. But a bullpen glitch in the top of the ninth meant Looper's season-ending record stayed at 12-14.
A tough-luck pitcher for most of the year, Looper worked hard to get No. 13 in his final appearance of 2008. He went seven innings, allowed four runs and appeared to have a game-winning RBI when he tripled down the left-field line for a 5-4 Cardinals lead in the sixth.
It was all going according to plan until Javier Valentin erased a 6-4 St. Louis advantage with a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth off Ryan Franklin.
Just like that, Looper went from a 'W' to a no-decision.
The 12-14 record doesn't begin to tell the story of how valuable Looper was to an injury-plagued starting rotation that needed stability. Looper finished with a 4.16 earned run average over 33 starts and racked up 199 innings. Manager Tony La Russa was aware that Looper needed to get through the eighth to reach the 200-inning plateau, but felt that going to the bullpen at that juncture was the best way for Looper to get the win.
Looper said he feels "a little bit" of frustration overall about not having a record indicative of his performance in 2008, but he doesn't put Friday's game in that category.
"Today it was OK, because we ended up winning," Looper said. "You can't really control those things. For the most part this year, I improved on what I wanted to improve on from last year. It was a good step, and I look to build on it next year."
La Russa appreciates Looper's effort, saying the veteran right-hander should have had 16 to 18 wins under normal circumstances.
"One thing you learn in this game is that there's very rarely justice," La Russa said. "For him to have a losing record is really unfair."
Looper will now wait to see whether a deal will be worked out that will enable him to come back for a fourth season in St. Louis.
"That's where the business part of the game comes in," Looper said. "We'll see what happens. I definitely like St. Louis. I have a home here, my family likes it. But I also understand that this is an important time in my career."
The Cardinals (84-76) have won four in a row, and now are sure to finish with a better regular-season record than they posted in 2006, when they were 83-79 before finding the playoff magic that took them all the way to a World Series title.
St. Louis trailed, 4-2, in the fifth when Albert Pujols, who is finishing another big year in grand style, launched a two-run homer off Bronson Arroyo. Pujols went 3-for-3, reached base five times and lifted his batting average to .357.
When Looper snapped the tie with his RBI triple in the sixth, and Adam Kennedy hit the second of his two triples in the eighth, followed by Cesar Izturis' sacrifice fly, the Cardinals seemed to be in good shape.
But Franklin came on with one out in the ninth and surrendered a single to Danny Richar. Franklin got Corey Patterson for the second out before Valentin prolonged the game with his two-run blast into the right-field stands.
"He just overthrew the pitch and hung it," La Russa said.
It cost Looper a win, but it didn't ultimately cost the Cardinals the game.
With one out in the ninth, Felipe Lopez singled off reliever Bill Bray. Mike Lincoln came on and pitched ever so carefully to Pujols. The Cardinals slugger refused to extend beyond the strike zone and walked. Then came the key play, when Lincoln got a pitch too far inside to Ryan Ludwick and hit him to load the bases.
Glaus then hit his sacrifice fly to medium-center, enabling the Cardinals to keep their winning streak intact.
"We haven't always played well, but we've really played hard," La Russa said.
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.