Julio Lugo hit the 10th leadoff homer of his Major League career, and Matt Holliday collected his 1,000th big league base hit two frames later. But when Holliday was doubled up on the next batter, it was a harbinger of what was to come later in the game. The Cards had no shortage of baserunners. They just couldn't turn them into runs. The Redbirds left nine men on base and went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
"It's part of the game," Holliday said. "Those things happen. You're going to have days where [it's like that]."
St. Louis jumped to an early 2-0 lead on Lugo's homer and Ryan Ludwick's RBI single. Smoltz permitted a single tally in the fourth, but through five he was still holding a lead. In the sixth, though, he got into a jam he couldn't get out of.
Craig Counsell led off the inning with a double. Frank Catalanotto followed with a line-drive comebacker that struck Smoltz on his left thumb and skipped away, putting runners on the corners with no out. Smoltz struck out Ryan Braun, though, and induced a potential double-play ball from Prince Fielder.
"When I got Braun," Smoltz said, "I felt like I could limit the damage to just one run and keep us right there in the ballgame."
However, Fielder's ball was a very slow roller, with no guarantee Lugo could turn two. He bobbled the ball anyway, and could only get an out at first base. That brought home the tying run, and Casey McGehee kept up a ridiculously hot series with a two-out, two-run homer.
"We kind of took advantage of their only mistake in the whole series," Milwaukee manager Ken Macha said.
Neither Smoltz nor Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was all that sure Lugo could have turned two even if he'd handled the ball cleanly. Still, Lugo was disappointed he didn't at least give himself the chance.
"I knew I had to be quick for us to turn it," he said. "which is probably why I mishandled it a little bit. Then I knew we didn't have a chance, so I took the one out."
Even so, McGehee had to capitalize, and he did. He went 5-for-11 on the series, driving in nine runs in three games.
"He's just a really good in-his-area hitter," Smoltz said. "We had some balls over the middle of the plate yesterday that he hit. I kept it out of the middle of the plate for the most part until that hit. He's new to me and he's new to the league. He's swinging a hot bat in his area, so you have to keep it out of there."
The Cardinals weren't done, but they couldn't quite come all the way back. Two walks and a double loaded the bases in the seventh inning, but Khalil Greene struck out and Albert Pujols grounded out. Holliday added a solo homer in the eighth, but the Cards scored no more. Pujols struck out with Lugo on first to end the game.
The defeat spoiled what should have been a memorable milestone for Holliday. His second hit of the game was No. 1,000 for his career, and he finished with three on the afternoon.
"I think it's a sign that the Lord has blessed me with some ability and good health," he said. "Without those two things, I wouldn't have been able to do that."
Thanks to a Cubs loss, the Cardinals remain 10 1/2 games ahead of Chicago in the National League Central. Their magic number dropped to 19.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.