ST. LOUIS -- If it looked familiar, well, it was. For a second consecutive Tuesday, the Cardinals' bullpen melted down against a National League East opponent. Only, remarkably, this one was even worse. This time it was a nine-run eighth-inning implosion against the Phillies, as St. Louis lost, 10-2, at Busch Stadium.
Five pitchers combined to throw 64 pitches in the ghastly frame, in which Philadelphia sent 14 batters to the plate. Cardinals hurlers allowed five hits, issued four walks and hit two batters in the fateful inning, which turned a compelling pitchers' duel into a rout. It was the Cardinals' first game since placing Albert Pujols on the disabled list.
"I don't know what happened in the eighth inning," manager Tony La Russa said. "It's just one of those days."
La Russa had lifted starter Kyle McClellan in the bottom of the seventh for a pinch-hitter, a move that led directly to the Cards getting the go-ahead run. But when he turned to his bullpen, things got ugly quickly.
With a 2-1 lead at the start of the eighth, La Russa called on Trever Miller to face the top of the Phillies' order -- two switch-hitters followed by two left-handers. Miller induced a flyout from Jimmy Rollins to start the inning before allowing a hit to Shane Victorino and a walk to Chase Utley.
Rather than leave Miller in to face Ryan Howard, who consistently is much less effective against left-handed pitchers than right-handers, La Russa summoned Jason Motte. It didn't work. Motte hit Howard and Placido Polanco, loading the bases and tying the score.
"The one to Howard, I was trying to come in," Motte said. "It just got a little bit too much in. I went back and watched it. It started up -- I didn't think it was that bad of a pitch -- then it ended up hitting him in the elbow."
La Russa explained that regardless of how Miller had fared, he was going to turn to Motte to face Howard. He cited Miller's tough career numbers against Howard (5-for-13 with a home run, including postseason games), as well as Howard's higher batting average against left-handed pitchers this year. However, Howard has a much higher slugging percentage against righties, and overall has been significantly more productive against them this year and throughout his career.
"I was surprised that he made the move to bring in Motte," Howard said. "We were patient enough to where we were lucky. We just took advantage."
After Motte's two hitters, lefty Brian Tallet was brought in and he didn't fare all that much better. Tallet struck out the left-handed-hitting Raul Ibanez but allowed a go-ahead single to pinch-hitter Ben Francisco. Miguel Batista issued consecutive walks followed by a two-run single, and the game was out of hand. The Phils tacked on against rookie Maikel Cleto, but by that point, it scarcely mattered.
The collapse spoiled a superb start by McClellan, who went toe-to-toe with Roy Halladay and was every bit the two-time Cy Young winner's equal. McClellan lasted seven strong innings, walking four but consistently dodging trouble when he got into it.
"I'm not pitching against him," McClellan said. "I'm pitching against their lineup. I felt good today, felt like I made a lot of good pitches, and outlasting him or not, I'm not really out there pitching against him."
Halladay, meanwhile, issued two first-inning walks but was his usual self after that, making the Cards work hard for every base over six innings. Both times that St. Louis scored, it did so by way of an out. With the bases loaded and one out in the fifth, Ryan Theriot barely beat out a potential double play to keep the inning alive and bring home the first run.
After Philadelphia tied the score against McClellan thanks to a pinch-hit RBI single by Ross Gload, the Redbirds scratched out another run -- this time against reliever Michael Stutes. A walk and a single put runners on the corners with one out, and Skip Schumaker delivered the tiebreaking sacrifice fly. Other than that, it was a quiet night for the Cards, who have lost eight out of 10.
The eruption against St. Louis' bullpen raised the team's collective bullpen ERA from 3.94 to 4.28, third worst in the NL. Cardinals relievers have 15 blown saves, tied for the most in the Majors, and their 14 relief losses are tied for fourth most in the league.
"We need to pick it up," Miller said. "No doubt about that. We can't have innings like that. That's part of being in the bullpen -- going in and picking guys up and keeping the game within reach. We didn't do that tonight, and there's been other games where we haven't done it either. Collectively, we need to tie our shoes a little tighter, maybe turn our focus up."
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.