ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals may have asked a little bit too much of two youngsters on Thursday night. Lance Lynn and Maikel Cleto both encountered speed bumps in their Major League debuts in a 12-7 loss to the Giants at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals suffered their first series loss since May 13-15, and just the second in their past 16 sets. They hadn't dropped a series at home since the first week of the season, when they lost two of three to both San Diego and Pittsburgh.
Lynn has been groomed for some time as the next starting pitcher to come from the Cardinals' pipeline, and with more than a full season at Triple-A Memphis, it's not as though he was unprepared. However, he was pitching on three days' rest after a 101-pitch start, and after an impressive beginning to the game, he faded.
He also didn't get as much help from his defense as he may have liked. In both innings in which Lynn allowed runs, a play was not made behind him that might have changed the look of the game significantly.
As for Cleto, he was at the Class A level less than a month ago. While his future remains promising, it was likely an unfair request to ask him to keep the Cardinals in a close game against the reigning World Series champions. The ideal debut for Cleto would have been a lower-leverage situation. However, the primary reason that Cleto is in the Major Leagues is that the Cardinals' bullpen has been worn thin in recent days. He was likely to pitch in this game in almost any circumstance that didn't include a complete game by Lynn.
"The situation was difficult," said manager Tony La Russa. "It was difficult for anybody that would have pitched. I thought both of them had good composure. Once Cleto settled down, he was very impressive. And early on, Lance showed his array of pitches."
Lynn retired the first 10 Giants in order before hitting Miguel Tejada with a pitch. After the Cards couldn't turn Freddy Sanchez's grounder into a double play, Aubrey Huff made them pay by drilling a two-run homer -- his first of three -- that sliced into what had been a three-run St. Louis lead.
Still, Lynn held the fort in the fifth and went into the sixth with a lead. Opposite number Jonathan Sanchez doubled to left-center on what may have been a catchable ball, starting a rally that chased the rookie starter. Colby Rasmus and Allen Craig both pulled up on the ball as it bounced on the warning track.
"Just a misread on my part," Rasmus said. "I kind of gave up on it a little bit there, just a misread. It didn't go where I thought it was going to, but that's just part of it. I just missed the play. At first, I didn't think he was going to hit it that far, actually. Off the bat, I didn't think it was going to go quite that far."
Andres Torres' single tied the game, and Tejada motored all the way to second when Craig tried to throw Torres out at third on Tejada's single. It was a smaller mistake, as Craig should have gone to second with the throw, but nonetheless affected the inning. Freddy Sanchez followed with a grounder to short, a ball that conceivably could have been a double play if Tejada had still been on first.
That ended Lynn's night. Huff's single off Trever Miller completed Lynn's line at 64 pitches (42 strikes). He was charged with five runs on four hits, taking the loss.
"I felt good," Lynn said. "I just left a ball up to Sanchez and he put a pretty good swing on it. Next guy put a good swing on a sinker away. And after that I was just fighting [with] everything I could to try to get as many outs as I could as quick as I could."
Cleto, acquired from Seattle for Brendan Ryan over the winter, got off to an exceedingly rocky start. He walked the first two batters he faced, allowed an RBI double, and then surrendered back-to-back homers after getting Tejada to ground out. He actually retired the next five batters he faced, but the damage had been done.
Huff followed his homer off Cleto with another against Brian Tallet. It was the first three-homer game of his career. Huff, who went deep 26 times last season, entered Thursday's game with just five home runs this season.
"I haven't been hitting the first two months," he said. "Hopefully, that right there gets me going. I woke up on June 1 and said, 'hey, June 1 is your Opening Day.'"
The rough pitching meant that a huge night from Rasmus was squandered. The third-year outfielder smacked a two-run triple in the third inning and launched his second Major League grand slam in the seventh for a career-high six RBIs. That was as many runs driven in as Rasmus totaled in his previous 19 games.
The Cardinals lead the Brewers by two games in the National League Central. Cincinnati is in third, 3 1/2 games back.
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.