SAN FRANCISCO -- The Cardinals showed some encouraging signs of life Friday, but by the time their game against the Giants had come to an end, those warm feelings already seemed to be in the distant past.
Albert Pujols' error cost St. Louis what should have been the third out of the 12th inning, and two batters later, Aaron Rowand hit a game-ending RBI single to the wall in left-center field for a 5-4 Giants victory. A game packed with pivotal moments and intriguing decisions ultimately came down to a missed catch by a Gold Glover and a huge hit by a backup outfielder.
"We put a lot into that game," manager Tony La Russa said after the four-hour, 24-minute marathon. "Both teams did. That's what made it a great game in a lot of ways. Had its high moments and its low moments. ... It's a tough ballgame. It would have been a great one for us to win."
Brian Tallet entered the game in the 12th and struck out Brandon Belt to open the inning. Miguel Tejada singled to left and Nate Schierholtz beat out a potential double-play ball, bringing Andres Torres to the plate with two outs. Torres hit a weak dribbler toward the mound that Tallet fielded, but his throw hit Pujols' glove and skipped away, keeping the inning alive.
"I just dropped the ball," Pujols said.
"That ball sank, but that's a ball that, you make that throw 100 times and I'm going to catch the ball probably about 99 or 98 times. The runner coming behind, I don't want to [make] an excuse. It hit the tip of my glove. That's it. I should have caught it."
The inning extended, Rowand hit a deep drive to left-center to finish off a wild game. It was the second hit of the game for Rowand, who had all of seven at-bats on the season before Friday.
"I was watching the center fielder more than anything else," Rowand said. "It was a matter of whether he was going to catch it or not."
Three innings earlier, Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin suffered his second blown save in three chances, equaling his total from the entire 2010 season, though not without some strangeness attached. Franklin allowed a tying single to Pablo Sandoval in the ninth before handing it over to Bryan Augenstein.
Franklin got the first two outs of the ninth without incident on grounders, but Rowand started a rally with a single to center. Rowand took second on a wild pitch on a knuckleball from Franklin, and once the runner was in scoring position, Franklin chose not to give Posey any hittable pitches. The catcher walked, bringing up Sandoval.
On the second pitch of the at-bat, Pujols signaled to catcher Yadier Molina for a pickoff play. Franklin, who didn't get the pickoff cue, threw a cut fastball that ran in on Sandoval but didn't get in enough, and Sandoval hit a ground ball to the left side. The pickoff play had Pujols moving toward first, so he couldn't get to the ball as it rolled to his right and into the outfield for the tying hit.
"Pickoff play, nothing you can do," Pujols said. "I put a play on and that's it. Franklin made a good pitch and he swung at a pitcher's pitch. Nothing you can do."
Despite the disappointment, Augenstein pitched a scoreless 10th and escaped an almost-impossible situation in the 11th, working around a runner on third with no out. The Cardinals couldn't get a run to make him the winner, though.
The loss squandered a stirring comeback by what had been a slumbering offense. Ryan Theriot's two-out, two-RBI single at the end of an epic at-bat had given the Cards the lead in the top of the ninth. Giants closer Brian Wilson retired the first two batters of the ninth before Yadier Molina walked. Daniel Descalso beat out an infield single and Wilson hit Jon Jay with a pitch, bringing up the Cardinals' leadoff man.
Theriot quickly fell behind, 0-2, before working the count full. At the end of a 12-pitch at-bat, he poked a rolling ground ball through the left side, quieting what had been a raucous crowd for the Giants' home opener. Yet Franklin couldn't make the lead stand up, and the Cardinals fell to an extremely disheartening defeat.
"We fought back hard," Franklin said. "We fought back off their best guy in the bullpen. It says a lot. Maybe that can be a thing that will carry over and we'll start doing some good things."
St. Louis had gotten back in the game with a run in the eighth inning courtesy of a Pujols RBI single off Sergio Romo. Prior to that, the Redbirds offense had been stifled by Jonathan Sanchez and two relievers.
Meanwhile, Cards starter Jake Westbrook showed some progress from his rocky first start and fitful spring. He was touched for eight hits over 5 2/3 innings, five of them for extra bases. But he induced two double plays and for the most part prevented some dangerous situations from getting away from him. He walked four, one intentionally.
"As far as being in the zone a little more, making pitches when I needed to, getting some big double plays, it was a lot better," Westbrook said. "I'm still not where I want to be, but it was definitely a progression from the last start. I felt like I battled and gave us a chance. Kept it close."
The Cardinals fell to 2-5, their worst start to a season since they were 1-6 in 1997.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer, and follow him on Twitter @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.