ST. LOUIS -- With no outs in the ninth inning Monday night, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa made a decision: Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier wasn't going to beat the Cards with Chris Carpenter on the mound.
And, in fact, Ethier didn't. Aaron Miles did and Rod Barajas did, with Fernando Salas and Jason Motte pitching, respectively.
Removing Carpenter from a shutout ended up blowing up in the Cardinals' faces, as Los Angeles rallied for a 2-1 win against St. Louis in the opener of a three-game series at Busch Stadium. Arthur Rhodes got the first out of the ninth, but a triple from Miles tied the game and Barajas' fielder's-choice grounder brought home the game-winner.
The frustration was magnified when another late-inning move by the manager didn't work out, either. Shortstop Rafael Furcal, who came into the game for defense, was the man unable to make the play on Barajas' ball. And Lance Berkman, who came out of the game in that switch, thus didn't get to hit in a one-run game in the bottom of the ninth.
It was thus a maddening game in just about every aspect for the Cardinals, who have lost five out of seven to fall nine full games behind first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central. They are in third place in the NL Wild Card race, 9 1/2 games behind Atlanta.
"It's frustrating, but so is getting blown out," said Berkman. "Losing games is tough. That's not what we're here to do. We're not getting it done."
Carpenter had been brilliant up to the point he was removed, rolling through eight shutout innings without so much as an extra-base hit against him. However, he hit Juan Rivera with a pitch to lead off the ninth, and La Russa lifted him for Rhodes. The veteran lefty specialist struck out the dangerous Ethier, bringing up Miles, and La Russa turned to his closer.
That didn't work, and on a 3-2 count Miles tied the game as pinch-runner Justin Sellers scored. With Motte in the game for Salas, Barajas hit a sharp grounder at Furcal, who hadn't started the game due to injury. Furcal bobbled the ball, and by the time he recovered and got a throw home, Miles had scored. The tying run was charged to Carpenter, with the go-ahead run on Salas' ledger.
"I sent him out there for the ninth, and then you watch the way the inning goes," La Russa said. "He hits the first guy, and you've got Ethier on deck. If there's somebody else on deck, maybe you play it differently. But it's Ethier, who's a pull hitter and can do a lot of things in the hole. You have an answer for Ethier. If [Rivera] bloops it in, maybe I leave him in there. Maybe I don't. Even then I don't do it with Ethier on deck."
The comeback cost Carpenter and the Cardinals a game in which the former Cy Young Award winner pitched at his highest level. It would have been Carpenter's first shutout since 2009 and his first at home since 2006.
"I felt good," Carpenter said. "My command was good. I got ahead in counts, controlled counts for the most part, made pitches when I had to, got the ball down. Threw some good breaking balls. Yeah, I was happy with the way I felt."
Carpenter had allowed three singles to James Loney and faced a bit of a threat in the second inning, but even when Carpenter was allowing baserunners, he was in control. He was effective and clinically efficient, needing 99 pitches to get 24 outs -- 69 of them strikes. Carpenter struck out seven and allowed one runner to get past first base all night.
"We didn't do much with [Carpenter], that's for sure," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "I'm sure Tony has his reasons. He knows his club."
Carpenter expressed no beef with being removed, acknowledging that if he doesn't hit Rivera, he doesn't come out of the game.
Of course, if he'd gotten any run support, it might have been a much different game. But after Berkman's second-inning homer, Nathan Eovaldi and the Dodgers bullpen shut the Cards down. The home team got just one hit -- Furcal's ninth-inning single -- after the fifth inning.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer, and follow him on Twitter @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.