Cards burned as pitchers play with fire

Cards burned as arms play with fire

CHICAGO -- Chris Perez had the blueprint. He just couldn't execute the last pitch.

After P.J. Walters and Mitchell Boggs had outlined exactly how to handle Alfonso Soriano for four at-bats, Perez surrendered a game-winning two-run homer to the Cubs slugger as Chicago beat St. Louis, 8-7, at Wrigley Field on Friday. Like his teammates, Perez tried to get Soriano to chase a breaking ball out of the strike zone. Unlike them, Perez left a slider over the plate and up too much, and Soriano pounded it.

Upon further review, Perez wished he'd done just about anything different against Soriano. Throwing a different pitch would have been fine. Getting the slider down further, even in the dirt, would have been fine. Leaving the breaking pitch in the zone was the one unacceptable option with a one-run lead, a runner on base and a 1-2 count.

"I threw three [sliders] in a row," he said. "He took the first one on 0-2. Then at 1-2, he took a pretty good swing on it and fouled it back. So that one, I was definitely trying to bounce it, and it just stayed up on me. I was still ahead, 1-2. If I bounce that, it would be 2-2 and I'd still have pretty good control of the count. I probably should have given him a fastball up and in or away, just to get him off the slider."

Not that Perez was the only Cardinals pitcher to get in trouble on Friday. He was simply the last one. The Cards had trouble containing their rivals all day, so despite holding two different two-run leads, they enter the weekend having split the first two games of a four-game series.

"You can see it early, in the first few innings," said reliever Trever Miller. "It's like, all right, here we go. Who's going to make the final pitch when they need to?"

That would be Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol, who turned the tables on Ryan Ludwick and the Cardinals. In a reverse of Soriano's day, Ludwick tormented the Cubs for eight innings before striking out with the winning run on base in the ninth. Ludwick homered twice off of Carlos Zambrano, but it was his ninth-inning stumble that stuck with him after the game.

"I didn't get the job done," he said. "That's all there is to it. Three straight fastballs, right by me. I just didn't get it done."

Nearly everyone could have done at least something else. Walters, making his Major League debut, had big trouble early before settling in. He allowed three runs before he'd recorded his fifth out, and seven of the first nine Cubs reached base. After that, though, Walters set down nine of the last 10 he faced.

He finished with four innings, three runs on six hits, seven strikeouts and two walks. And he left the game with a 5-3 lead.

"The first two innings I was all over the place," he said. "Too many pitches, too deep in the count. I've got to make better pitches than that."

Walters was lifted for Miller, ideally a specialist used to get left-handed hitters. True to form, Miller struck out lefty Kosuke Fukudome to open the fifth, allowed a single to right-hander Derrek Lee and struck out left-hander Micah Hoffpauir. Faced with the choice of staying with Miller for two dangerous right-handed hitters or going to youngster Mitchell Boggs, manager Tony La Russa stayed with Miller.

La Russa argued that it would not be the best use of Boggs, normally a starter, to bring him into the game mid-inning with a runner on base. Miller, however, had little for Aramis Ramirez, who doubled, or Geovany Soto, who singled. Those two hits brought in two runs, and the game was tied.

"They had the lefty-righty-lefty thing, and I was throwing the ball well," Miller said. "I guess he saw that and decided to leave me in, and I just didn't get it done. Left a couple of, not necessarily awful pitches, but up enough where they could do something with them. Two-out rally and we lost the lead."

Still, Brian Barden homered in the sixth and Ludwick added his second homer of the game in the seventh, and the Cardinals took a 7-5 lead into the seventh-inning stretch. But a single run against Boggs brought the Cubs back within a run, and Perez got into trouble in the eighth. He walked pinch-hitter Aaron Miles, then allowed the Soriano long ball.

"One out, nobody on, pinch-hitter who hasn't been playing all day," Perez lamented. "Miles is a good hitter, but it's tough to come off the bench and try to get something going. And I didn't even give him a chance to put it in play. I walked him, and that probably hurt the most."

The Cardinals fell to 3-2 on their current road trip and 8-4 on the year. They lead the Cubs by one game in the National League Central.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.