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Wainwright solid, but bats remain quiet

Wainwright solid, but bats remain quiet

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ST. LOUIS -- The speed bump that the Cardinals hit over the weekend is looking more and more like a full-fledged rut.

Adam Wainwright pitched superbly once again, but he got little help from his offense as St. Louis lost for the fourth time in five games, 2-1, to the Marlins at Busch Stadium on Tuesday. It was the third time in those five games that St. Louis has been held to two runs or fewer -- this time by a rookie left-hander who entered the game with a 4.81 ERA.

"[Wainwright] pitched a winning game," manager Tony La Russa said. "We just couldn't support him."

The loss, combined with a Cubs win against the Brewers, narrowed the Cardinals' lead in the National League Central to 8 1/2 games. Their magic number remained at 10. The day's outcomes also ensured that the Cards will not clinch on their current homestand, even if they sweep three games from Chicago over the weekend.

The Redbirds' lead remains very secure in the division, but the club simply has not looked good since returning from an outstanding road trip to Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. And St. Louis remains vulnerable to left-handed pitching, even lefties such as Sean West. The Marlins youngster had been unable to finish the fifth inning in seven of his previous 12 starts, but on Tuesday, he cruised through six.

West allowed some baserunners -- six hits and three walks. But he also struck out nine, and was rarely in serious trouble. Only once did the Cardinals get a runner into scoring position with fewer than two outs.

"He threw the ball well, but we chased some bad pitches up in the zone and some sliders down," said Mark DeRosa. "We didn't really put that much pressure on him. Definitely a different arm angle, a big guy, but we just didn't swing the bats well."

As a result, Wainwright had no margin for error. He took a 1-0 lead into the sixth, courtesy of Albert Pujols' sacrifice fly an inning earlier. But that was the only run the Cards could manage from a bases-loaded, one-out situation. And the inability to convert on that chance cost them very quickly.

Wainwright permitted a leadoff single to Nick Johnson in the sixth before getting the next two batters. He threw a decent curveball on a 1-1 count to Dan Uggla, and the slugging second baseman jumped on it for a two-run go-ahead homer. Before the blast, Uggla had been 1-for-14 in his career against Wainwright.

"I was just trying to hit something hard, which doesn't happen too often with me and Wainwright," Uggla said. "He usually wins that battle. He left a curveball just enough off the ground for me to go down and get it. I was lucky enough to put the barrel on it. He didn't make a mistake. I wasn't probably supposed to hit that ball out of the ballpark. Somehow I did. I'll take it."

Wainwright, typically highly self-critical, found little fault with the pitch to Uggla -- or nearly anything else he did on Tuesday. He pitched a fine game, and it should have been enough for the Cardinals to win.

"Even the at-bat before, I think he was sitting offspeed on me," Wainwright said. "He guessed right and I threw a pitch right into his game plan. ... I don't think it was a sloppy pitch. It was a 1-1 curveball below the strike zone. I'll take my chances with that almost every time. But he's a great hitter and he put a good swing on it."

And that swing was enough to deliver a win for the Marlins. Wainwright did just about all he could, and it simply wasn't enough.

"Almost every night with this team, you know that's going to win," Wainwright said. "But the guy on the other side pitched a great game. He had some good life on his fastball, mixed his slider and changeup in well. Sometimes, you tip your hat."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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