Down to two available relievers, La Russa called on left-hander Dennys Reyes to face a dangerous and heavily right-handed portion of the Cubs' batting order in the 11th inning. Asked to do something that's assuredly not in his job description, Reyes gave it a game effort, but fell short. He surrendered a two-run homer to Aramis Ramirez, ending the three-hour, 50-minute contest with a final score of Chicago 7, St. Louis 5.
"That's no excuse," Reyes said of working out of his comfort zone. "I have to do my job, to get people out. Unfortunately, I didn't today, and it cost us the game."
The natural inclination is to pin a defeat like this one on the bullpen. It's hardly a secret that the St. Louis relief corps has had some rough moments already in 2009, after a 2008 in which it had several seasons' worth of them. But in this case, the natural inclination would be incorrect. Until the Redbirds ran out of righties, the 'pen pitched well on Saturday.
Though the final margin came in the 11th, the loss had its origins in the fifth, with starter Kyle Lohse.
Lohse, who had been outstanding in his first two starts, allowed four runs over five innings and left in a tie game. With two outs and the bases empty in the fifth, he issued a pair of walks, and Derrek Lee punished him by drilling a two-run double that tied the game. Lee was thrown out trying to take third base, but he was nonetheless the last batter that Lohse faced.
Afterward, Lohse was left kicking himself over issuing two-out free passes to Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome, the first and second hitters in the Cubs' order.
"That's the part that [angers me] the most," Lohse said. "Make them put it in play. Make them earn their way on. I'm better than that. I guess I was getting a little too careful with Soriano. Fukudome, I tried to get him to chase something and get a ground ball, and he didn't bite. We know better than that as a staff. We have to make those guys earn their way on. We've got to work on it."
Once the fifth was extended so far, Lohse was out of the game. He needed 96 pitches to get 15 outs. Had he retired either Soriano or Fukudome, not only would the Cardinals still have had a lead, but Lohse almost certainly would have lasted at least another inning. That, in turn, would have lessened the load on the relievers, and probably prevented Reyes from having to face Soriano, Lee and Ramirez.
"I'm handed a three-run lead there, and it's my job to make it stand up," Lohse said. "I take accountability for that one. ... I've got to do a better job of finishing off the inning."
An inning later, Kyle McClellan found himself in a similar spot. With the bases empty and no one out, he walked Geovany Soto. Ryan Theriot beat out an infield hit, and Aaron Miles made the Cardinals pay with an RBI single that gave Chicago the lead.
The Cardinals tied the game in the eighth, but should have added more. Chris Duncan and Yadier Molina both doubled to open the inning, and Khalil Greene walked. But neither Molina nor Greene advanced so much as another base, as Joe Thurston and Colby Rasmus both struck out and Skip Schumaker grounded into a force. It was the second successive inning that the Cardinals had runners at first and second and didn't advance them at all.
"There definitely were some chances," Schumaker said. "We just didn't come through. Their bullpen has got some good arms out there and it didn't go our way. ... We definitely had our chance to win the game. A lot of us did. It's frustrating."
Still, the right-handers held. After Jason Motte tossed a spotless seventh, Ryan Franklin pitched around trouble for a shutout eighth and ninth. Chris Perez dodged two walks to get out of the 10th without a run. But with Mitchell Boggs having pitched two innings the day before, Perez was the last right-hander in the bullpen. And Perez's recent workload prevented him from going more than an inning.
Thus, it was Reyes' turn to try to get the potent righties at the top of the Cubs' order. He walked Soriano, but got the left-handed Fukudome to hit into a force. Lee flied out, and Reyes was one pitch away from getting out of it unscathed. It was not to be, though, as Ramirez reached down and drilled a pitch into the seats.
"I have to be prepared for those situations," Reyes said. "Unfortunately, I left the ball a little bit on the plate. It was a good pitch. It was a down pitch for a ball. He made a good adjustment and he went down to get it."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.