ST. LOUIS -- David Freese's smile wasn't exactly defiant. It was that what-are-you-worried-about kind of grin.
Sunday night's 4-2 loss to the Red Sox at Busch Stadium, which left the World Series tied after four games, saw St. Louis go a concerning 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals have left 32 runners on base, as opposed to 21 for the Red Sox.
But Freese, who has an .083 World Series batting average, refused to sweat the missed chances. He didn't show frustration on the field -- and he had ample cause after striking out looking with two on in the second inning and grounding out to shortstop to finish the eighth with a runner at third.
"It's 2-2 in the Series -- we're good," Freese said before breaking into a laugh. "We're all right.
"It's a frustrating game. This is an intense ordeal. But we're having fun out there."
There was plenty of not fretting in the Cards' clubhouse postgame. Part of it had to do with picking up teammate Kolten Wong, who was fighting back tears after being picked off first base to end the game -- with stalwart Carlos Beltran standing helplessly in the batter's box. But however they do it, the Cards must be better at converting scoring chances.
Freese fanned and Daniel Descalso grounded out after Yadier Molina doubled and Jon Jay walked with one out in the second against Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, who came off a shoulder injury and gave up just one run despite three hits and three walks in his four innings. Buchholz's final act was getting Cards pitcher Lance Lynn to pop out to finish the fourth with two men on base.
The Cards scored their second run in the seventh, which began with them trailing, 4-1. Shane Robinson doubled with two outs vs. the otherwise lights-out Felix Doubront (one hit, three strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings) and scored on Matt Carpenter's single against Craig Breslow. But after Breslow walked Beltran, the inning finished with Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa extracting a harmless grounder from Matt Holliday.
Also frustrating was the eighth. The Red Sox pulled Game 2 starter John Lackey out of the bullpen. Molina found himself at second after a wild Xander Bogaerts throw from third base, and Molina took third on a wild pitch. But Jay popped to short and Freese left a loud and hungry home crowd deflated with his grounder.
The night highlighted the slumping performance low in the Cards' lineup. Jay, who is hitting .154, batted sixth and Freese seventh in an effort to shake up the offense. Descalso is hitless in six World Series at-bats. It leaves the offense dependent on Beltran, Holliday and Molina.
"We tried moving guys around a little bit to see if something will spark there," manager Mike Matheny said. "We've got guys that can contribute at the bottom of our lineup, and right now, it's not happening."
That's one reason the Cardinals stepped up to take some of the embarrassment that no doubt was sitting on Wong's shoulders after he was victimized by Sox closer Koji Uehara's pickoff to end the game.
"He's got to realize it's not on him," Jay said. "We had a lot of opportunities. I had an opportunity to drive a run in with a runner on third and less than two outs. He'll be all right.
"I don't think I can put my finger on it, but to get this far you've got to have good pitching. We've seen it from both sides throughout the series. Pitchers have been able to work out of jams. We just have to do a better job with runners in scoring position."
There are many ways to analyze Sunday's missed opportunities. Buchholz, with less than prime velocity, enticed the Cards repeatedly to reach just outside the hitting zone. In the eighth, Jay couldn't get his arms extended on a Lackey fastball with the count 2-0, and Freese once again made weak contact on Lackey's 1-1 fastball. Six pitches after Molina made it to second, the threat was done.
But maybe it's a good time to just hit, rather than analyze.
"We don't have to think about it, so we don't think about it," Beltran said. "I know we are trying. Right now, it's not working."