ST. LOUIS -- Unable to properly execute in several key spots, the Cardinals squandered an opportunity to seal a series sweep against a Brewers club that didn't so much win on Sunday as allow St. Louis to lose.
The Cardinals' 3-2 loss in front of 45,824 at Busch Stadium was laced with fundamental deficiencies, which collectively marred the end of a month in which the team posted a 14-8 record.
"It was," as David Freese described it, "a rough day."
Blame could be widely dispersed, as the Cardinals' offense went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. The club had at least one baserunner in every inning but the fourth, but 13 were stranded. Nine of those were left on against Brewers starter Zack Greinke, who had shut out the Cardinals in seven innings on April 7. He allowed one run in six innings Sunday.
"You have that many opportunities, it's hard to swallow that," manager Mike Matheny said. "They give us runs, we have to take advantage of it."
The Cardinals scored a run the second but likely would have had a second if Jaime Garcia had executed a sacrifice bunt. Three innings later, Garcia's mental gaffe cost St. Louis another.
Having singled and advanced to third on a hit by Jon Jay, Garcia broke home when Matt Holliday lifted a fly ball to center with one out. Though the ball was hit plenty deep to be a sacrifice fly, Garcia's misguided aggressiveness left him no time to retreat and tag up. Rather than tally his 14th RBI and push the Cardinals' lead to two, Holliday was charged with an at-bat.
He was visibly agitated as he returned to the dugout, as was Garcia, who ended the inning still standing on third.
"That was terrible baserunning," said Garcia, who confirmed that he did not lose count of how many outs there were in the inning. "That shouldn't be allowed. It's the first time it's ever happened to me. I'll learn from that."
Added Matheny: "It hurt, without question. He just had too much of a jump trying to get something going. That's an issue you run into sometimes with pitchers. We work on it in Spring Training, but they just don't get a lot of repetitions."
Though Garcia discarded any notion of a carryover effect, he immediately lost the lead upon returning to the mound. After giving up four hits in the first five innings, he allowed as many to Milwaukee in the sixth. Three runs scored, including two on Jonathan Lucroy's two-out double.
Garcia followed with a scoreless seventh, but that three-run sixth was enough to position him for his first loss of the season.
"I didn't get the bunt down. Bad baserunning. And I didn't execute a pitch when I needed," Garcia said. "In the Major Leagues, if you do that it's going to cost you a game. And it did to me."
After inching closer with a run in the eighth -- the only other inning in which the Cardinals had a hit with a runner in scoring position -- St. Louis foiled a chance to claim its second last at-bat win of the year.
Holliday drew a leadoff walk and gave his base over to pinch-runner Tyler Greene. Greene raced to third when Carlos Beltran followed with a single. Freese, the team's RBI leader, then worked ahead in the count, 2-0, against Brewers closer John Axford, who entered the day having converted 47 straight saves.
A pair of generous strike calls from plate umpire Derryl Cousins evened the count, and Freese expanded the strike zone considerably when he swung through strike three.
"He's nasty," Freese said of Axford. "That 2-0 [pitch] was a tough call ... especially when you have a guy throwing 97 [mph]."
With one out and runners still at the corners, Saturday's star, Yadier Molina, had the next chance. Molina fell behind, 0-2, at which point Matheny put into motion a play that the team had worked on several times during Spring Training.
He signaled for Beltran to take off for second, with Greene aware that if Beltran drew a throw, he'd race home. It was a play the club had executed four times this spring.
Sunday's attempt was a disaster.
Beltran didn't get a good jump, which prompted Lucroy to throw to second. He did so, though, after double-pumping, which led to Greene hesitating on his jump. He waited too long before breaking.
"We were just watching to see what they were going to do," Greene said. "The pump fake just threw it off."
Brewers shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who took Lucroy's throw, briefly began a rundown with Beltran before turning and throwing home. The ball easily beat Greene to the plate, and Lucroy applied the game-ending double-play tag. Molina had swung through a high fastball to strike out at the front end of the play.
"I'll just say that play didn't go as planned," a visibly irritated Matheny said afterward. "We were prepared for that and wanted it to look different than how it turned out."
"That's how we played in Spring Training," Beltran said. "Spring Training we got a lot of success being aggressive on the bases."
The lack of execution helped notch another save for Axford, and it kept Milwaukee from enduring its second sweep of the month. It also prevented the Brewers from falling six games behind the Cardinals only 22 games into their season. The Cardinals have not completed a sweep all year.
"Luckily," Axford said, "it just kind of worked out with a strikeout and [an] I-don't-know-what play."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.