ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps it's fitting that a fitful spring gave way to a similarly uneven Opening Day for the Cardinals.
Two missed plays in the middle infield, along with a lost out on the bases and numerous missed chances at the plate, cost the Redbirds dearly in a 5-3 Opening Day loss to the Padres at Busch Stadium on Thursday. St. Louis did plenty of things well, but it didn't avoid enough missteps to prevent a frustrating defeat that echoed many of the Cardinals' losses from a year earlier.
Ryan Theriot's 11th-inning error was the key play in a two-run game-winning rally for the visiting Padres, who did not lead at any other point in the game. San Diego had earlier benefited when Ryan Ludwick knocked a ball out of second baseman Skip Schumaker's glove. Virtually every turning point in the game turned against the Cards, and it was too much to overcome.
"It's a weird, difficult way to lose," manager Tony La Russa said. "Tough way to lose."
Reliever Bryan Augenstein retired the first two batters of the 11th, but Chase Headley kept the Padres alive with a single. When Cameron Maybin followed with another single, Theriot failed to pick up the throw, and Headley took off for home. Theriot's throw to the plate sailed high and out of Yadier Molina's reach, allowing Maybin to take second, and Nick Hundley singled home pinch-runner Cedric Hunter.
"I saw that the ball was going to bounce, so I took a little shuffle just to see if it was going to kick away from him," Headley said. "I just took a chance and it worked out."
San Diego had forced extra innings when Maybin belted a two-out solo homer off St. Louis closer Ryan Franklin in the ninth. Franklin threw a "get-me-over" curveball to Maybin on the first pitch, and Maybin jumped it, drilling it 417 feet to straightaway center.
"If he's going to sit up there and look for a first-pitch curveball, then I'll tip my hat," Franklin said. "And he hits it 400 feet? Good job. ... For a first pitch, no doubt, I think it was a good pitch."
Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter enjoyed a fine game, but he didn't factor in the decision. The right-hander allowed two runs on two hits over seven innings, striking out four against two walks, in his sixth Opening Day start.
In many ways, the game was frustratingly familiar for the Redbirds, echoing many of the problems that plagued the 2010 Cardinals. Schumaker credited Ludwick when he dropped a throw from Molina in the fifth, missing out on what should have been a caught stealing, but either way the play hurt the Cards. The next batter, Hundley, made St. Louis pay with an RBI double.
"[Ludwick] knocked it out," Schumaker said. "I was there in time and I had enough time to tag him and kind of go with the throw, and he came in and threw it off, knocked it out. It was a good play by him and unfortunate for me and us."
An inning later, Matt Holliday, who otherwise had a fine game, was caught straying off second base in a first-and-second, no-out situation in the sixth. That short-circuited a potential go-ahead rally. After a spring in which baserunning was a focus, the Cards suffered their first damaging out on the bases on Opening Day.
And that most maddening of 2010 bugaboos revealed itself as well, as the Cards scuffled to convert baserunners into runs. They amassed nine hits against San Diego starter Tim Stauffer, but St. Louis turned them into only two runs, and totaled three runs on 12 hits on the day.
The Redbirds had men on first and second with no outs in the third and did not score. They got one run but no more out of three straight hits to open the fourth, and the two singles in the sixth led to nothing. In total, Cardinals batters hit into four double plays, three of them by Albert Pujols. According to MLB Network, that marked the first time since double plays have been kept as a stat that a batter hit into three twin-killings on Opening Day.
"I had a chance a couple of times with men in scoring position, and I didn't do the job that I'm supposed to do," Pujols said. "Hitting into three ground-ball double plays, obviously that kills the rallies a lot. It's the first game of the year and you've got 161 games left. I'm glad this is over, and now we just need to refresh and come back on Saturday and hopefully even up the series and hopefully try to win the series on Sunday."
It's the fourth Opening Day loss in five years for the Cardinals. St. Louis is 2-4 in home openers at the new Busch Stadium.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.