All of the foibles were familiar, and the final result could have been plucked from nearly any month of the 2008 season. A big hit here, another inning or two from Adam Wainwright there, and especially a stop in the ninth could have yielded a victory in front of 45,832 damp and chilly fans in downtown St. Louis. Instead, the Redbirds are 0-1 for the third year in a row.
"Two-run lead going into the ninth, gave up four," manager Tony La Russa said when asked for his assessment of the game. "[And] we had some chances early in the game with runners in scoring position."
The ninth-inning struggles by rookie Jason Motte drew the most attention from reporters, and will surely dominate the call-in shows, message boards and any other outlet for fan displeasure. And not unfairly, since Motte was touched for four runs on four hits, three of them doubles. His greatest sin was throwing a pitch close to the strike zone with an 0-2 count and the bases loaded, a pitch that Jack Wilson drilled for a three-run, game-winning double. But for much of the inning, Motte's problem was getting into deep counts.
"I felt like I got behind guys and got into predictable fastball counts and I had to throw it," Motte said. "We talked about it before the game. These guys are a good fastball hitting team, so if you get in those kind of counts and throw fastballs up there, those guys are going to hit them."
But as was so often the case in '08, if the bullpen had been given a little more room for error, it might not have mattered.
Wainwright pitched effectively but inefficiently for St. Louis. He allowed two runs on four hits, striking out seven, but he equaled a career high by issuing five walks in 5 1/3 innings. He needed 94 pitches to record 16 outs. The right-hander's last two walks proved costly, as both runners scored on a Nyjer Morgan single off Trever Miller.
Wainwright scuffled in the first two innings, allowing four hits and a walk. But he settled down in the third, retiring nine out of 10 batters from the third through the fifth before getting into trouble in the sixth. Holding a 2-0 lead with a chance to get into the game's final third, though, Wainwright stumbled.
He struck out Adam LaRoche, but Andy LaRoche worked a full count before drawing a walk. Wainwright held an 0-2 advantage on Brandon Moss before losing Moss to a second straight walk. Wainwright was lifted in favor of Josh Kinney, who walked pitcher Paul Maholm, before Miller surrendered Morgan's tying single.
"I had [Moss] 0-2 and I made four of the worst pitches of my entire life in a row," Wainwright said. "Andy LaRoche, I felt like I made a pretty good pitch on 3-2, but you can't wait to 3-2 to throw a good pitch. I had him put away too if I would have made some nice pitches. ... I could get another out right there and put that in the books and carry the team hopefully another inning even after that if I can get Moss out right there."
The score remained tied into the eighth, when Ryan Ludwick drilled a solo homer that gave the Rebdirds the lead. David Freese's sacrifice fly stretched the edge to two runs as Motte warmed up for the save chance. Motte allowed a leadoff double to Freddy Sanchez, struck out Nate McLouth and got Ryan Doumit to ground out, putting him one out from shutting the door.
Then it got hairy. Adam LaRoche singled Sanchez home. Eric Hinske doubled LaRoche to third, and Motte hit Moss with a 2-1 pitch to load the bases. Still, that brought up Wilson, who is not known for his power. Motte got an 0-2 count on the shortstop, then left a fastball up and over the plate -- but not high enough. Wilson smacked it for the winner.
"I didn't get it up and out enough," Motte said. "It was a bad, bad spot on my part."
Motte emerged as the leader from a multi-way competition for closing duties during Spring Training, though La Russa has refrained from designating the righty as his main man in the ninth inning. He's considered something of a work in progress, but his exceptional spring earned him the first crack at closing out a game.
"You can throw 97 [mph], but if you're not spotting it up good, then it's probably going to get hit a little bit," LaRoche said. "You know what you have to do with a guy like that? You have to get your foot down a little earlier. You've got to kind of start everything a little bit earlier. If he can get some offspeed [pitches] because he's tricking guys, then obviously it'd be a lot tougher at-bat."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.