ST. LOUIS -- A rainstorm did what the Cardinals offense could not on Thursday night, knocking out D-backs starter Joe Saunders, but it still wasn't enough to save the Redbirds from a fairly rote 4-1 loss to Arizona at Busch Stadium.
Whether against Saunders or the Snakes' relief corps, the Cards couldn't turn threats into runs on a frustrating night at the plate. Starter Kyle McClellan was effective in sopping up seven innings, but had little margin for error. Cardinals defenders also committed three errors on the night.
"The whole ballgame was not a standout game," manager Tony La Russa said.
The game was delayed by 66 minutes before the first pitch due to a storm. The second wave of weather began hitting in the bottom of the fifth, and by shortly into the sixth, play was halted. The second delay lasted 50 minutes.
McClellan pitched around two of the Cardinals' errors in the first three innings, holding the visitors to one unearned run before the sixth-inning storm. Play was stopped with a runner on first and no outs in the sixth. When the game resumed, Stephen Drew flied out, but Justin Upton took a 1-0 pitch 406 feet to left field for a 3-0 D-backs lead.
The right-hander was trying to locate a fastball down and away, but instead left it up and over the plate. Upton did what a dangerous hitter does with a pitch like that.
"He's been doing that for us for the latter part of the season," said Arizona manager Kirk Gibson. "He crushed it."
That was more than enough against a Cardinals offense that drew free passes aplenty but was held to three base hits. McClellan lasted one more frame, getting through the seventh on a night when his bullpen desperately needed the help. Six St. Louis relievers combined to throw 8 2/3 innings in a 13-inning loss to Cincinnati the night before, necessitating a move for relief help in the form of P.J. Walters.
Saunders, facing the Cardinals for the first time, issued a passel of walks but never really paid for them. He allowed a single hit to the Cards over his five innings. The lefty worked around a two-on, no-out situation in the first and a pair of walks in the fourth, each time with the help of a double play.
"Missed opportunities," La Russa said. "You usually don't get away with it, but they did tonight."
Saunders was lifted after the rain delay, which fell in the middle of the D-backs' half of the sixth inning, and the Arizona bullpen more or less held the fort. St. Louis pushed through a single run against Micah Owings in the sixth, but should have had more.
A single, a walk and a Matt Holliday double cut the Arizona lead to 3-1, but the inning went no further. Owings struck out Lance Berkman, and Yadier Molina's fly ball to left died at the warning track, ending the threat.
That followed key, momentum-sapping double plays in the first and fourth. A Cardinals offense that has regained its dangerous edge in recent weeks was kept quiet by the D-backs on Thursday.
"It was one of those nights where we couldn't string together timely hits," said Nick Punto, who was 0-for-4. "They hit the home run and we just didn't come up with any big hits. ... Sometimes you've got to tip your hat. We didn't come up with any big hits. I thought Mac [McClellan] threw pretty well. Just one of those nights where the offense wasn't there."
The Cardinals fell back into a first-place tie in the ever-more-jumbled National League Central division. St. Louis and Milwaukee are deadlocked at 47-42, while Pittsburgh is one game back. The Reds remain three games out. The NL Central features the closest first to fourth place teams of any division in baseball.
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.