ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Zambrano criticized teammate Carlos Marmol's pitch selection in the ninth inning Sunday, saying the Cubs are "embarrassing" and playing like a "Triple-A team."
"We stink," Zambrano said.
For the second straight day, Albert Pujols provided late-inning heroics, this time hitting a walk-off homer to lead off the 10th inning and give the Cardinals a 3-2 victory that completed a three-game sweep But the problem, as far as Zambrano was concerned, came the previous inning.
"The problem wasn't Pujols," Zambrano said. "The problem was the previous at-bat [against Ryan Theriot in the ninth]. We should know better than this. We played like a Triple-A team. This is embarrassing, embarrassing for the team, for the owners, for the fans. Embarrassing. That's the word for this team.
"We should know better than this, we should know better than we did on the field," Zambrano said. "We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter. We should know that as a team. We should play better here. We stink. That's all I've got to say."
And with that, Zambrano walked away.
With the Cardinals trailing, 2-1, in the ninth against Marmol, Yadier Molina singled and was lifted for pinch-runner Tony Cruz. Marmol struck out the next two batters before Theriot, a former teammate, lined a double down the left-field line on a 2-2 slider to tie the game. The run snapped Marmol's road scoreless-innings streak at 25 1/3, a franchise record.
Before Theriot connected, Cubs catcher Koyie Hill went to the mound to make sure they were on the same page. Hill had called for a fastball; Marmol wanted to throw a slider. In hindsight, Hill and Zambrano may have been right.
"From my perspective, I was on the same page," Hill said about throwing a fastball. "But you've got your big guy on the mound to close games and he's really good at it. If he wants to throw something he believes he wants to throw, I'm all for it. The oldest thing in the book is to sit back and say, 'You should've done this, you should've done that.'"
Marmol's best pitch is his slider.
"'Z' critiquing Marmol's approach? I could care less," Cubs manager Mike Quade said when told of Zambrano's comments. "Everybody's always [ticked] when he gets beat with a fastball. I'm just [ticked] when we get beat."
And Marmol's take?
"I made a mistake," Marmol said. "I threw it down the middle and that's what [Theriot] was looking for. I missed. I missed with my best pitch and he got a hit. What can you say? I decided to go with my best pitch and it didn't work out."
Zambrano may have a good scouting report on Theriot, but the Cardinals' shortstop knew what to expect.
"I was looking for the slider the whole time," Theriot said. "I was able to get a slider that I was able to handle and put a good swing on it. I was able to extend the game a little bit and give Albert a chance to win it, and he did."
Pujols, who hit a game-winning homer in Saturday's 5-4, 12-inning Cardinals win, smashed a 2-1 fastball from Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez had the edge going into the at-bat as Pujols was 0-for-12 against him.
"I made a mistake on the pitch," Lopez said. "I was supposed to go down and in with some sinking action, and it seemed like the ball stayed flat. Albert's had some really good at-bats in this series and he hit the ball pretty good."
The comeback by the Cardinals spoiled Zambrano's bid for his sixth victory. He gave up one run on five hits over seven innings and was in line for the "W."
"He's obviously frustrated," Hill said. "He's doing everything he can. I don't fault him for wanting the team to play better. At some point, you get tired of saying we need to play hard, and eventually you say something else.
"I don't think he means the guys in here are Triple-A players or dogging it or anything like that," Hill said. "I think he means that you put together a string like we have, you might start thinking a Triple-A team can give us a run for our money. It's frustrating. There's a big difference between being frustrated and discouraged. Being frustrated is part of the season, whether you go to the World Series or you're last in the league."
The Cubs took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on Aramis Ramirez's two-run double in his first start back since being hit in the face with a ball Wednesday. He still has seven stitches in his left upper lip and it's still swollen, but he can still hit.
The Cubs now have lost six in a row and dropped to a season-low 11 games under .500.
"It seems like we find different ways to lose a ballgame every day and that's no fun at all," Ramirez said. "There's nothing you can do. We still have four months to go. Everybody here has something to play for -- just show up and play."
As far as Zambrano demoting the team to the Minors, Quade expected that to be dealt with in-house.
"Let his teammates deal with that, I guess," Quade said. "I don't know exactly what that means. We had a chance to win a ballgame and we didn't get it done. The people who picked him up were not Triple-A caliber, and that's [Sean] Marshall and Marmol."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.