ST. LOUIS -- In a sport that venerates milestones, a round number is almost always a cause for celebration, making for a night to remember. So it was something unusual that a crowd of 37,062 witnessed at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night.
A throng that was considerably thinned out by evening's end saw the Cardinals hit the absolute wrong kind of round number in a 13-2 shellacking by the Dodgers. The defeat, combined with yet another win by the streaking Brewers, put St. Louis 10 full games behind first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central. The Cards have 33 games remaining in the regular season.
The odds against the Cardinals have been long for quite a while now. But the double-figure deficit casts things in a particularly harsh light with just over five weeks of games left.
"That's not how you're mapping out the end of the year with only 30 or 40 games left," said second baseman Skip Schumaker, who pitched the ninth for St. Louis. "This is not a good thing. We need to turn this thing around in a hurry if we want any sort of chance to come back."
Starter Kyle Lohse was not sharp from the start, handing over an 8-0 deficit to the Cards' bullpen after three innings. That was more than enough support for Cy Young contender Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers' bullpen, who combined to hold St. Louis scoreless until the ninth inning. When the Cards pushed across two runs against former teammate Blake Hawksworth, it ended a string of 15 consecutive innings without a tally.
Virtually nothing went right for the home team. Lohse saw a recent surge tamped down. Reliever Mitchell Boggs had a rough second frame, exacerbated by an error from the usually slick-fielding Rafael Furcal. The offense could muster little against Kershaw, though the Redbirds did at least occasionally threaten and finally broke through against the L.A. bullpen.
And, for a second straight night, manager Tony La Russa's decisions met with scorn from the Busch Stadium faithful.
As it quickly became clear that Lohse simply didn't have his A-game, the assembled crowd showered some boos both upon both the pitcher and the manager who let him stay in to absorb eight runs and eight hits. In the bottom of the fourth, though, the frustrated fans found even greater reason for ire.
The Cards had formed the beginnings of a rally against Kershaw, getting a leadoff double followed by a one-out infield single and a walk. Ryan Theriot struck out with the bases loaded for the second out, bringing up the pitcher's spot and reliever Boggs.
The right-hander, who had pitched one inning, stayed in to hit. When it became clear that La Russa had decided not to pinch-hit for Boggs, the boos were clear and strong. Boggs struck out looking, ending the last serious threat the Cardinals would mount against Kershaw.
La Russa said that the decision was not particularly difficult, but that it might have been different if there had not been two outs.
"Do the math of the innings you have to play, the pitchers we have, the games that are remaining," he said. "[We've] still got five games before we have a day off. Just do the math. If Theriot would have done something, I would have had to try to keep the inning open. But he didn't."
From there, the outcome was in little doubt. Los Angeles tacked on three more in the fifth, putting the game fully out of reach. Former Cardinal Aaron Miles put the capper on the rout by homering off Schumaker in the ninth. Miles, coincidentally, was also the last position player to pitch for the Cardinals.
"I played catch with Schu a thousand times, so I know exactly what it looks like coming out of his hand," Miles said. "He throws 92 [mph]. He provided all the power."
It provided a rare moment of levity on a disappointing night for the home club. The Cardinals have lost six out of eight. In four weeks, they have dropped 10 1/2 games relative to Milwaukee. St. Louis led the Brewers by half a game at the end of the day on July 26. Since then, Milwaukee has gone 23-4 while the Cards are 12-14.
"We've got to play better than we're playing," Lohse said. "I take responsibility today. It's hard to make up any traction when you go out and don't give your team a chance. I'm not scoreboard-watching or anything like that. It is what it is. You've just got to finish as good as you can and see what happens."
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.