ST. LOUIS -- If one were to draw up the textbook situation for a left-handed reliever, Friday night's game between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks offered a template. St. Louis had a taxed right-handed starting pitcher on the mound with the bases loaded, in the seventh inning of a needed game, and two left-handed hitters at the top of the order coming up for the fourth time.
Instead, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan stayed with their starter, Kyle Lohse. It was likely part confidence in Lohse, part a lack of confidence in the southpaws in their bullpen, and part fear of a dangerous right-handed pinch-hitter. Regardless, it didn't work.
Kelly Johnson's one-out grand slam in the seventh inning turned out to be the telling blow as Lohse and the Cards fell to a 7-6 loss against the D-Backs. Johnson hit a 2-2 changeup over the wall in right field, putting St. Louis in a deeper hole than it was able to dig out of.
Asked about his decision-making process, La Russa pointed to the looming possibility of Wily Mo Pena hitting for Johnson if he turned to a lefty. Raul Valdes was warming up in the bullpen at the time for St. Louis.
"I don't know that the first lefty would have hit," La Russa said. "They had a lot of right-handed hitters on the bench, including a couple of pretty good guys. I thought [Stephen] Drew would have hit. And I thought [Lohse] had the weapons to get Johnson. Didn't work -- bad decision."
Lohse kept Arizona off the board in five of his seven innings, but in the two frames where he was scored upon, the numbers were big. He was reached for three in the fourth and four in the seventh.
"Just location," Lohse said. "That's what it comes down to with me. I've got to locate my pitches better. I walk a guy on four straight. ... Just missing, just trying to be too fine or whatever it is. I pitch different when I'm ahead [from] when I'm falling behind. I've just got to do a better job of making hitters be a little more on the defensive. You can't keep putting guys on and leaving the ball up."
St. Louis let a 3-0 lead get away, and appeared to have missed out on a chance to pad that advantage even more against scuffling starter Ian Kennedy in the early going. Once Kennedy survived a perilous third inning, he didn't face much stress.
Yet the Cards rallied against the Arizona bullpen, with a Matt Holliday solo homer and Daniel Descalso's two-run double making it a one-run game. It wasn't enough, though, as St. Louis lost for the fifth time in seven games. The Cardinals fell into third place in the National League Central, one game behind Milwaukee and a few winning-percentage points behind the Pirates.
Lohse breezed through the first three innings without allowing a baserunner, but things turned quickly on him in the fourth. A double and a walk brought up Chris Young, who tripled to left field. The ball hit Holliday's glove as he attempted an outstretched, running catch, and caromed past him for extra bases. A Miguel Montero single provided the third run, and the Cards' early advantage was gone.
"I looked at that several times during the game," La Russa said. "I've got on my [lineup] card that all the damage they did, pretty much, was up. All of a sudden, that inning... He had been making good pitches. Moving the ball around, getting the ball down."
The score remained deadlocked until the seventh, when Lohse got in trouble and there was no one to bail him out. He retired the first batter, but two singles and a walk loaded the bases against the right-hander.
The Cards had Valdes warming as Arizona's lineup turned over to bring up a pair of left-handed hitters: Johnson and Drew. But the Cards stayed with their starter, who had already thrown 115 pitches.
Lohse left the changeup over the plate and up, and Johnson hit his second grand slam of the season. Johnson has hit for a slightly higher batting average against left-handed pitchers this year, but his on-base percentage and slugging percentage have been much higher against righties, and 14 of his 16 home runs have come off right-handed pitching.
"It just felt like one of those situations where generally a move is made," Johnson said. "When I was digging in and [catcher Gerald] Laird goes out there, I was expecting to see Tony making a move. It worked out for us."
Lohse retired Drew before handing the ball over to right-handed reliever Jason Motte. Valdes pitched the eighth and Fernando Salas the ninth for St. Louis.
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.