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Sloppy Cards drop finale to Rockies

Sloppy Cards drop finale to Rockies

DENVER -- Their manager stuck up for their effort, but the Cardinals' execution on Sunday was another matter. A day after clinching the National League Central championship, St. Louis played an unsurprisingly sloppy game, losing to the Rockies, 4-3, at Coors Field.

St. Louis was charged with only one error, but at least two other balls were misplayed on an afternoon when the Redbirds simply didn't play their best baseball. Kyle Lohse was charged with four runs -- three earned -- over five innings to take the loss. He probably deserved somewhat better, but not a lot better.

With a day game following a nighttime clincher, though, manager Tony La Russa didn't want to hear any suggestion that his team put forth a ragged performance.

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"I saw that club celebrate and come out and get themselves ready to play and play nine innings as hard as they could," La Russa said. "I thought our club was heroic."

The game ended on a great play that capped a fairly strange ninth inning. Julio Lugo led off with a single off closer Huston Street, who picked up a two-inning save. Skip Schumaker grounded to shortstop and appeared to beat out the throw, which should have put runners on first and second. However, Schumaker was ruled out, his case not aided by his headfirst dive into the bag, as opposed to running the play out.

With second base open, the Rockies chose to walk Albert Pujols intentionally, bringing up Ryan Ludwick. After Lugo stole third, Ludwick lifted a fly ball into short-to-medium right field. Second baseman Clint Barmes and right fielder Brad Hawpe converged on the ball, and Barmes came up with the play. Pujols had already motored around second and was headed for third, so it was easy for Barmes to double him off -- ending the game.

"If that ball drops, I was either on third base or I was out at second," Pujols said, "because he would have caught it right there and made the throw to second base. It's one of those plays that you don't practice. You just read the ball, and if the defense makes a great play, so be it."

It was just the final missed chance for the Cardinals, who fell behind in the first inning before rallying. Troy Tulowitzki got the scoring going with a two-out RBI triple. The ball was solidly struck and at least a legitimate double, but the Cardinals couldn't get the relay back in cleanly. That allowed Todd Helton to score from first and Tulowitzki to go all the way to third. One batter later, Hawpe singled home Tulowitzki for a 2-0 lead.

"It was tough, because I felt like even in the first inning, balls were pretty much where I wanted them," Lohse said. "Down and away, Helton, I don't even know if he knows how he put that one in play. Tulowitzki down and in. Hawpe down and in. They weren't really getting the barrel to it."

Even as the Cards came back, they didn't take advantage of all their chances. Pujols laced a three-run double in the third inning, but after St. Louis went on to load the bases again in the same inning, it couldn't come up with another run. An inning later, Pujols and Ludwick both struck out with the bases loaded as the Redbirds came up empty.

They paid for those misses and a miscue in the fifth. Pinch-hitter Eric Young Jr. reached on Pujols' error, then came home to score the tying run on Carlos Gonzalez's double. Helton's RBI single delivered what proved to be the game-winner.

The Rockies finished off their season series against the Cardinals with a 6-1 record, an ominous note for a St. Louis team that could well play Colorado in the first round of the playoffs. As of Sunday, though, the Cards would begin at Los Angeles.

"To win a series down the stretch run against a good team, it's huge for our confidence," Tulowitzki said. "Hopefully, we'll keep winning and get in, but I think the Cardinals know in the back of their minds that we're playing well, too."

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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