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Carpenter proves human after all

Carpenter's rare struggles cost Cards

ST. LOUIS -- Chris Carpenter can be excused for an outing like this. It may not be the same for the hit-or-miss Cardinals offense.

Coming off a dominating one-hit complete game against the Brewers in his previous start, the former Cy Young Award winner endured his toughest start of the season. The offense mustered just three hits until the ninth inning and was held to two runs or fewer for the second time in three games.

The combination wasn't pretty, as the Cardinals were swept by the Braves with a dismal 9-2 loss on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals, who hadn't lost three consecutive games since they were swept in Houston on July 20-22, dropped a game to the Cubs in the National League Central standings and had their magic number to clinch the division remain at 11.

"It was just one of those strange days," said infielder Skip Schumaker. "[Carpenter] gets hit, and we don't hit. It was just one of those days."

Carpenter may have been due for a rough outing after pitching brilliantly all season. The righty entered the game leading the Major Leagues with a 2.16 ERA and had given up three earned runs or fewer in all but two of his 24 starts this year.

But his quest for a second Cy Young Award took a hit on Sunday, when the wheels came off in the third inning. After Carpenter quickly retired the first two batters in the inning, the Braves strung together six hits to take a commanding 6-0 lead. The usual pinpoint control of the St. Louis ace was gone, as he left balls up over the plate and paid for it.

"I made some bad pitches," Carpenter said. "I just wasn't able to make a pitch to get out of the inning, bottom line.

"I'm human also. Things happen. I'm looking forward to getting back out there in five or six days for my next start. I'll work hard and be ready to pitch."

After getting two weak groundouts in the inning, Carpenter gave up singles to Nate McLouth and Martin Prado before walking Garret Anderson to load the bases. Adam LaRoche followed with a two-run double, and Yunel Escobar backed that up with a two-run single to make it 4-0.

Kelly Johnson followed with a double to put runners at second and third before Matt Diaz singled to score both runs. Atlanta sent eight men to the plate after two outs were recorded.

"They kind of caught fire that inning," Schumaker said. "You don't ever see that against Carp. I've never seen that, and I don't expect it to happen again."

The six runs in the third inning were the most Carpenter has allowed since giving up seven in the fifth on Aug. 4, 1998, at Texas while pitching for Toronto.

"It was one of the most amazing two-out rallies that I've seen, especially off a pitcher of that caliber," said Diaz. "It was quick, too. Nobody was really getting deep into the counts. That's why he was able to go six innings. I don't think you want to see a ton [of pitches] off a guy like that. I think you want to see the first one that you can hit, and put it in play."

The loss was Carpenter's first since June 30, snapping his 11-game winning streak. He allowed seven runs in six innings on nine hits and two walks.

"He never quite looked right," said manager Tony La Russa. "His location was not good. He just had an off day, and their guy had a great day."

Indeed, Carpenter could have given up three runs on Sunday and still taken the loss with the way Vazquez was dealing. The Cardinals had just three hits in the first eight innings before Schumaker's third hit of the day started a rally in the ninth.

Pinch-hitter Joe Thurston and Albert Pujols each singled before Matt Holliday knocked them in with a single.

Minus Schumaker and Jason LaRue, the St. Louis lineup went a combined 0-for-23 in the first eight innings of the game.

Vazquez went the distance for his 25th career complete game and second of the season.

The Cardinals will welcome in the Marlins for a three-game series beginning Monday night at Busch Stadium, and they'll send Todd Wellemeyer to the mound to replace the injured John Smoltz.

Luckily for the Cards, who will look to avoid their first four-game losing streak since they dropped five in a row on June 5-9, the hot Braves starting pitching has left town.

"We faced some very good pitching in Jurrjens, Vazquez and Hudson," Schumaker said. "They pitched well against us, and sometimes that happens. You run into guys that are hot at the right time, and our bats didn't show up."

B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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