MILWAUKEE -- The Cardinals opened a pivotal seven-game road trip on Monday night with a game that looked like a movie with too many writers. What started out as a taut drama turned without warning into a screwball comedy in the space of an inning.
Chris Carpenter, brilliant for four frames, completely lost control of the game in the fifth, and things didn't get better from there for the Redbirds in a 6-2 loss to the Brewers. A compelling pitchers' duel became a relatively easy win for the first-place Brewers thanks to a one-inning stretch.
Carpenter suffered a loss of command and was harmed by some less-than-inspired defensive play in a five-run bottom of the fifth. In the top of the sixth, the Cards squandered a golden offensive chance with the help of an apparently missed call at first base.
The rest of the game went as though scripted, with the Milwaukee bullpen shutting the door and the first-place Brewers nailing down another victory at home. St. Louis dropped to 3 1/2 games behind Milwaukee, its largest gap from first place since trailing by four games on April 12.
"A bunch of tough breaks," manager Tony La Russa said. "They hit a couple balls hard, but they got five runs off of not enough contact. Some of it we could have defended better, no doubt. But some of it was just tough breaks."
Milwaukee took the first of what will be six games between the two rivals in 11 days. The Cardinals are 2-5 against the Brewers this year.
"It's important to get that first game," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. "You look at that first inning when they get that two-run homer, and then it looks like Carpenter's on his game and he's going through our lineup pretty easy, and you start to wonder what's going to happen in that ballgame."
Carpenter had been in full control until the collapse. He dominated Milwaukee through the first four innings, hearkening to previous games at Miller Park when he turned in two of the finest showings of his illustrious career. Yet from the first batter, the fifth was different.
Three straight singles cut a 2-0 Cardinals lead in half and brought pitcher Zack Greinke to the plate with men on the corners. On the third hit, a single to left, outfielder Matt Holliday appeared to miss a chance to throw out the lead runner at third base, setting up the pivotal play that followed.
Greinke attempted a sacrifice, and though catcher Yadier Molina fielded the ball, Skip Schumaker didn't get to first base in time to take the throw. All runners were safe on what was ruled a single.
"Probably should have been there earlier than I was," Schumaker said. "Another big play in the game. It looked like it was a squeeze because he was halfway down the line, so I was yelling squeeze, and I got caught up in that. So I went over to first, and I think by that time he might have been already there."
Molina explained that, with a runner on third, a throw to first base likely would have yielded a run. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, that run scored on the next batter. Corey Hart singled home the tying run, and Nyjer Morgan doubled home three runs that proved to be the difference in the game.
Carpenter felt the quality of his pitches didn't change all that drastically in the fateful inning. Still, he clearly left some breaking balls up in the strike zone, and the Brewers capitalized.
"I made a couple bad pitches," he said. "Got the ball up a few different times there. But I had some tough breaks, and Nyjer hit a ball that I thought was a pretty good pitch and cleared the bases with it. That's going to happen when you're facing a tough club like these guys."
Milwaukee added a sixth run two innings later when Lance Berkman couldn't corral Ryan Braun's base hit to right, allowing Morgan to score from first on what was ruled a double. It hardly mattered, though, because the Cardinals had already missed their best chances to chip away at the lead.
In the top of the sixth, St. Louis loaded the bases with one out for Schumaker. The second baseman worked a 3-2 count before grounding to the right side. David Freese was out at second but Schumaker appeared to be safe at first. However, first-base umpire Rob Drake ruled Schumaker out, ending the inning and preventing a run from scoring on the play.
"I was safe," Schumaker said. "It's a huge play. It's upsetting because it's a big point in the game. Yadi is on deck. He drives in a lot of runs in big situations. It's just a big play."
The Redbirds missed another chance in the next inning, unable to get a run home after putting runners on first and second with one out. The inning ended when Albert Pujols hit a ball that bounced behind the plate and was snared in fair territory by catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who tagged him before he got up the baseline at all.
Holliday's first-inning homer provided the only runs for the Cardinals, who are 8-9 since the All-Star break.
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.