New Cardinals closer Jason Motte picked a bad time to suddenly lose it.
Up 6-1 after seven against the Mets, the Cards allowed one in the eighth and six in the ninth to lose 8-6 on Thursday.
A win would have left the Cardinals one game back of the idle Braves with both teams having six games left. Now they’re two back as they begin a series against the Cubs on Friday.
The Cardinals got homers from Allen Craig and Albert Pujols in building their lead. Jake Westbrook allowed just one run and three hits in six innings, but he was pulled for a pinch-hitter after a mere 84 pitches.
Things still looked good initially from there. Arthur Rhodes worked a flawless seventh, and Octavio Dotel allowed an unearned run in the eighht, making it 6-2. The Cards turned to their closer then, but Motte walked three of the five hitters he faced and had another reach on a Rafael Furcal error. Marc Rzepczynski took over with the score 6-3 and the bases loaded and gave up an RBI single to Jose Reyes.
Fernando Salas was next in. He gave up a two-run double to Ruben Tejada, tying the game with still just one out in the inning. Left fielder Shane Robinson almost made what would have been an outstanding leaping grab on the play, but he came up a little short. After an intentional walk to Angel Pagan reloaded the bases, Salas was able to strike out David Wright. However, Willie Harris followed with a line drive single to right, plating two more runs. After, Nick Evans flied out to end the inning, the Cards went down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
The Cardinals are going to need some real help from the Nationals and Phillies now if they hope to catch the Braves. They do get to face the Cubs and Astros in their last two series, so a 5-1 or even a 6-0 finish can’t be ruled out. Atlanta is in the driver’s seat, though.