ST. LOUIS -- A mostly productive road trip came to a fairly dull end for the Cardinals on Sunday. St. Louis lost its second straight after starting the trip with four wins in a row, falling, 8-3, to the Rays in the two teams' final Interleague game of 2011.
It was not an especially sharp game for the Cards in any facet. Starter Kyle Lohse had his moments, but didn't finish the sixth inning. A defensive lapse cost the Redbirds. And the offense scuffled against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson and closer Kyle Farnsworth.
"We didn't play our best game and we got beat," manager Tony La Russa said.
At least the Cardinals All-Stars did their part at the plate. Yadier Molina hit a solo home run in the second inning to put the Cardinals ahead, and Lance Berkman added a game-tying two-run shot in the sixth that scored Matt Holliday. Berkman's shot was his 22nd, moving him into a tie with Matt Kemp for the National League lead.
But it was a quiet afternoon for the rest of the St. Louis lineup. Hellickson was efficient if not dominant, permitting three runs on six hits over 7 1/3 innings. The Cardinals swung aggressively against Hellickson, allowing him to get those 22 outs on 94 pitches. That in turn allowed Rays manager Joe Maddon to go straight from his starter to his closer.
"I think we had a good game plan," said second baseman Skip Schumaker. "[Hellickson] has a very good changeup. We decided we didn't want to be in between, so we wanted to stay on his fastball. So we tried to hit his fastball as early as we could. But it just wasn't [happening]. Just no love tonight. But you've got to give credit to him, too. He did a good job keeping us off-balance, because he kind of figured that out and started throwing early offspeed."
Lohse was mostly solid through the first four innings, but things turned against him in the fifth. Elliot Johnson beat out a bunt single with two outs in the fifth, bringing up Johnny Damon. The veteran slapped a ball into the right field corner and just kept running. He was credited with a double, took third when the Cardinals tried to get the throw home and came around to score when Schumaker's throw got away from Molina and Lohse was not in position to back up the plate.
"It was a bad play on my part," Lohse said. "I got kind of watching the play, and by the time I was ready to go back behind the plate, the runner was coming around. I didn't want to get hung up and run into, so I was late and screwed up."
An inning later, three doubles in a four-batter span against Lohse and reliever Jason Motte gave the Rays the cushion they needed. Tampa Bay tacked on three more runs in the eighth against Raul Valdes and Brian Tallet, turning a fairly close game into a convincing defeat. A Rays team that had been having difficulty scoring runs at home tallied 13 in the last two games of this series.
"It wasn't the sharpest I've been," Lohse said. "This team seemed like they had a pretty good approach, kind of waited out my changeup and jumped on some fastballs that I left up -- overall, wasn't very good."
The Cardinals finished Interleague Play with an 8-7 record. They won two series against Kansas City and one against Baltimore, while dropping their sets with Toronto and Tampa Bay. However, St. Louis remained in a tie for first place in the NL Central, thanks to Milwaukee's loss to the Twins.
"We beat a very good team," said Damon. "A team that can possibly be playoff-bound and World Series-bound."
They just weren't as good as usual on Sunday.
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.