Never mind the critical missed offensive chance in the eighth inning, never mind the disputed call at home plate, never mind the Cardinals' inability to get a "shutdown" after scoring. For La Russa, his team's 6-4 loss to the Mets at Citi Field on Monday night could be boiled down to one line in the box score: that of starting pitcher Todd Wellemeyer.
"I saw a guy who gave up 10 hits and four walks," La Russa said. "And it wasn't good enough."
Handed an early deficit, the Cardinals kept chipping away all night. But they could never come all the way back in their first game at the Mets' new ballpark. The defeat was just the Cardinals' fourth in their past 12 games, as well as their first at the hands of the Mets in 2009. St. Louis swept New York in a three-game series at Busch Stadium in April.
Wellemeyer was in trouble throughout his 5 2/3 innings, keeping the game within reach but not recording even a single 1-2-3 inning. Four hits led to two runs in the first, and the Cardinals never tied it after that. Wellemeyer allowed five runs on 10 hits, walking four against two strikeouts. It was the sixth time in 15 starts this year that Wellemeyer was charged with at least five runs.
He has four quality starts this year, and none since May 22. Only once all year has Wellemeyer turned in consecutive quality starts, and at no point has he lasted six or more innings in three straight games. La Russa, always reluctant to give a scouting report on a player, focused squarely on Wellemeyer's final result. Pitching coach Dave Duncan pointed to Wellemeyer's approach.
"He's just got to get back into that mentality of being a real aggressive fastball pitcher that blends his offspeed pitches in," Duncan said. "Control the counts, keep the ball down. That's what he does when he's pitching good."
Wellemeyer's effect certainly meshed with what Duncan is seeing. He remains puzzled by his struggles, unable to find the single fix that will get him right. Early in the season, he believed a mechanical tweak would set him straight. More recently, he pointed to limiting the damage in potential big innings. No solution has truly been a solution. Wellemeyer is still searching.
"I felt pretty good out there," he said. "It's just that I'm not getting any breaks whatsoever. It's a cross between bad pitching and just bad luck. And that's not a good combo to go through. This is three months of it."
He'll get the chance to continue, at least for now. La Russa refused to answer questions about Wellemeyer's rotation status, but Duncan said that Wellemeyer is safe for the time being.
"We're not even talking about doing anything different," Duncan said.
Still, despite the early deficit, St. Louis kept the pressure on New York all night. Skip Schumaker's RBI single got the Cards on the board in the third, and Ryan Ludwick cranked a two-run homer in the sixth to cut into a three-run New York advantage. But the Mets added a run on Alex Cora's RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, after the Cards elected to stay with Wellemeyer rather than removing him after five.
New York again answered when the Cardinals closed back within a run in the eighth, a sequence that proved pivotal. The Cardinals had a chance to take the lead in the top of the frame with a one-run deficit, a runner on first base and Albert Pujols at the plate. But on a 2-2 pitch from Brian Stokes, Pujols took an awkward swing and hit a soft comebacker that turned into a double play.
"He made a good pitch and I swung and that's it," Pujols said. "What, am I supposed to hit everything out of the park or get a base hit? I'm ... human, too."
When the Cards missed, and the Mets added on, the game was all but decided. Luis Castillo barely beat a tag from Yadier Molina on a play at the plate to score the sixth Mets run. Tim Redding picked up the victory after seven-plus innings of mostly effective ball. He struck out four and walked one, allowing four runs on five hits.
The Cardinals' lead fell to one game over Milwaukee 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.