ST. LOUIS -- Jaime Garcia's late-season swoon continued on a steamy, sticky Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium. Garcia allowed eight consecutive baserunners in a six-run third inning, and the Cardinals slumped to a 9-4 loss against the Dodgers.
The Cardinals, who have lost seven out of nine, were swept at home for the second time in 2011. They're now four games over .500, the closest they've been to the break-even point since July 21.
Garcia, a key part of the club's April and May surge to the top of the National League, has been searching for his form in the second half of the season. The left-hander allowed seven runs in five innings on Wednesday, the fourth time in six starts that he's allowed at least five. Over Garcia's first 21 starts, he was reached for five or more runs on just three occasions.
Garcia played down the idea that he is wearing down physically. However, for whatever reason, he has not looked like the same pitcher in recent weeks that he was for most of the season.
"I had a couple of starts where it was tough," Garcia said. "There was fatigue. I was getting tired. But today, there was no physical fatigue or anything. I felt good physically today. Just one of those things."
On Wednesday, Garcia looked reasonably effective in the early going, but when things turned against him, they went sour very quickly. Two walks to light-hitting Dodgers players kindled the outburst, and by the end of the third, Garcia's day was ruined.
The free passes, to Justin Sellers and Tony Gwynn Jr., were exacerbated by a wild pitch, and Matt Kemp capitalized with a two-run single that gave Los Angeles the lead. Juan Rivera doubled, Casey Blake singled and James Loney doubled, each plating additional runs. Jamey Carroll's single kept the rally going, and A.J. Ellis drove in the sixth run with another single.
"When stuff like that happens, you've got to step off and really think about the pitch you're going to make," Garcia said. "Relax a little bit and try to limit the damage. I tried to do that. I thought I was doing that. Didn't work. Things like that happen."
The first out of the inning came courtesy of the opposing pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda, who sacrificed. That actually short-circuited the onslaught, as Garcia retired the next two batters to escape the frame.
Garcia was also reached for a home run by A.J. Ellis in the fifth. It was the fifth time in six starts that he has allowed a long ball; a far cry from the eight homers he permitted in his first 21 games. Garcia has gone more than five innings in just one of his five August starts.
"His command in the zone has been tough," catcher Gerald Laird said. "I don't care how good of movement you have and what you throw, if you can't get ahead of hitters and you've got to come over the middle of the plate, you're going to get hit. Sometimes I think we get too caught up in trying to keep the ball down and away instead of attacking down-middle and getting ahead. When you fall behind, you've got to elevate it and bring it over the middle of the plate. And these guys are good hitters."
Kuroda, meanwhile, wasn't dominant, but he was plenty good enough considering the run support. The right-hander took a 9-1 lead into the seventh before Laird made the score look better for the home team with his first homer as a Cardinal, a two-run shot.
The defeat capped off a frustrating series for the Cardinals. They took a lead into the ninth inning behind ace Chris Carpenter on Monday, only to see it vanish in a 2-1 loss. They were routed, 13-2, on Tuesday before enduring Wednesday's loss.
"We got a little momentum the first day when we came from behind," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Yesterday we jumped out of the box with early runs and had [Clayton] Kershaw, and today we put up more runs. I think it carried over for us."
St. Louis remained 10 games behind first-place Milwaukee with 32 games remaining in the regular season.
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.