KANSAS CITY -- After waiting four innings for a big hit, the Cardinals went at it a different way. They got two big walks.
Colby Rasmus and Yadier Molina drew consecutive bases-loaded walks in the 10th inning, sending the Cardinals to a grueling 9-8 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday. St. Louis let a six-run lead slip away and squandered golden chances in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, before finally salting away the win.
Even once the Cards took the lead for good, it wasn't easy, as Kansas City plated a run in the bottom of the 10th before de facto closer Fernando Salas finished it off. Fifteen pitchers appeared in the game, and five Cardinals hurlers allowed at least one run.
"You've got to give them credit," Rasmus said. "They battled. They put some good swings on us after we took that lead. But to come away with it, I think that's huge. It shows we didn't give up. Everybody kept pushing. Today was a long day, long game, hot out there. Both sides were battling."
The winning rally happened without a hit. Tyler Greene drew a leadoff walk against Louis Coleman, and Albert Pujols reached on an error by second baseman Mike Aviles. Gerald Laird was hit by a pitch, chasing Coleman. Tim Collins retired Lance Berkman but walked Rasmus and Molina to give the Cardinals a two-run lead.
"I just didn't throw strikes," Collins said. "There wasn't anything mechanical-wise and mentally I felt good. It was just one of those days when the ball's not going in the strike zone."
Laird suffered a broken bone in his right index finger when he was hit and will go on the disabled list. It was a damper on an otherwise uplifting though extremely draining win.
Rasmus walked five times on the day, a career high and the club's first five-walk game since Reggie Smith's quintet on Sept. 13, 1974. St. Louis batters drew a staggering 13 free passes en route to the win. Considering the hit batter and the Aviles error, the Cardinals collected 15 baserunners without benefit of a base hit.
The late rally took the Cardinals' bullpen off the hook after that unit had its roughest day in quite some time.
Starter Jaime Garcia wasn't quite as sharp as he's been in some recent starts, but he also had quite a task on a day that favored hitters. The wind was blowing out for most of the afternoon, and warm temperatures helped hitters out as well.
When Jeff Francoeur led off the sixth with a homer against Garcia, it was enough for the second-year lefty. Kansas City had pulled within four, 7-3, and manager Tony La Russa turned to his bullpen. It didn't work out as he had hoped.
Miguel Batista, who hadn't pitched in nine days, found the going rough immediately. Batista surrendered a double to Billy Butler and a home run to Wilson Betemit, and he lasted only one more batter. Brian Tallet got out of the sixth but permitted a leadoff homer to Alex Gordon in the seventh.
Eduardo Sanchez appeared to have stanched the bleeding when he retired Aviles and Eric Hosmer. But he hit Francoeur in the head with a breaking ball and came unraveled a bit after that. Francouer not only stayed in the game but stole second. Sanchez walked Butler, bringing up the switch-hitting Betemit, who poked a single up the middle to tie the game. Butler was caught between second and third on the play, though, gift-wrapping an end to the inning for the Redbirds.
"Our pitchers attacked the zone," La Russa said. "A lot of times they were trying to do it, too. It's a fine line. How many runs did they score? Eight. We got the ball in the middle. We may not have walked anybody, but we gave them pitches to hit. We weren't trying to throw the ball down the middle. It's a very fine line when you pitch."
All the while, St. Louis was missing chances to add runs. The Cardinals put two runners on in the sixth, the seventh and the eighth, and they loaded the bases in the ninth but did not get a run in any of those innings. The last two chances were especially painful.
After a leadoff double in the eighth, Jon Jay was caught trying to go to third on Greene's bouncer to the left side. Even after Pujols reached on an infield hit, Laird and Berkman couldn't get either runner home. Laird was in the game because Matt Holliday was removed in the fifth with recurrent tightness in his left quadriceps.
In the ninth, the Cards put their first two men on base, and after Daniel Descalso's sacrifice, Pete Kozma drew a walk to load the bases. However, Jay hit into a double play, ending the threat.
The Cards improved to 28-20 on the year, a season-best eight games over .500. They lead the Reds by 2 1/2 games in the National League Central.
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.