ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals were one strike away on Sunday from taking their second straight game from the Royals in this first installment of the I-70 series.
But Kansas City had other plans.
Billy Butler hit a pinch-hit homer off closer Jason Motte on a two-strike pitch in the ninth to tie the game and send it into extra innings. Later, Yuniesky Betancourt's two-run go-ahead homer off Eduardo Sanchez in the 15th inning handed the Cardinals a 5-3 loss on Father's Day before 41,680 fans at Busch Stadium.
"This is as tough a loss as they've been," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I can't figure out any other way to say it."
The Cards were plagued by missed opportunities throughout the five-hour marathon affair. While Motte's fastball to Butler had the most direct effect, one of St. Louis' biggest miscues occurred in the fifth inning.
With men on second and third and none out, St. Louis squandered a prime scoring opportunity while behind, 1-0. Starter Adam Wainwright was called on to attempt a suicide squeeze on an 0-1 count. Royals starter Luis Mendoza's pitch to Wainwright was well outside and in the dirt, and Wainwright couldn't get a piece of it. That left Tyler Greene dead to rights on the third-base line.
"There was nothing I could have done," Wainwright said. "I mean, I could have thrown the bat at it maybe."
Wainwright said he had been told to anticipate the call before heading to the plate, but Matheny said he had more of a safety squeeze in mind and did not communicate that properly to his hitter. Matheny took full blame for the miscue.
"That's just not good baseball," Matheny said. "It was a bad play. No question, that's the game. It turned the game around."
Wainwright struck out, and Daniel Descalso lined out to end the inning.
As for Motte's 99-mph fastball to Butler that landed over the Royals' bullpen in left-center, both Motte and Matheny agreed it was the right pitch to call. Motte had blown two straight fastballs by Butler in the at-bat, and the closer said he wanted to rear back one more time to try and strike Butler out.
"When [catcher Tony Cruz] called fastball up, I said, 'Yeah, let's go.' He is a good fastball hitter, and it obviously wasn't up enough. He was able to get the barrel on it," Motte said. "If I throw a cutter right there and he hits it into Big Mac Land, everybody says, 'What are you doing throwing a cutter? Why didn't you blow him away with a heater?' That's the pitch I wanted to throw."
Butler, however, was prepared for the heat.
"I was just trying to get the bat through the zone, especially when a guy throws a 98-mph fastball," Butler said. "Be as quick as possible and hope that something good happens."
Four scoreless innings followed Butler's homer, until Betancourt put the Royals ahead, 3-2, with an RBI double in the 14th. Yadier Molina extended the game with a two-out single to score Allen Craig from third with the tying run, but Molina's heroics wouldn't have been necessary had Craig not made a mental error on the previous play.
Greene hit a ball deep enough to center field to score Craig from third, but instead of tagging up, Craig broke for the plate on contact. He didn't get back to the bag in time to tag.
"I just wasn't thinking," said Craig, who hung his head low while standing on third after Greene flew out. "It was one of those unacceptable things. I wasn't paying attention. I was being stupid. There's no excuses."
The Cardinals' blunders, both early and late, spoiled back-to-back sixth-inning homers by Matt Holliday and Craig to give St. Louis a one-run lead, as well a quality start by Wainwright.
Wainwright allowed three straight singles and a run in the second inning. But from there on he didn't allow another hit until the sixth inning. The right-hander went seven innings for the second straight outing and struck out eight for the second time in his last three starts.
"He deserved better," Matheny said of his starter.
"That was one of those games ... I don't know, man. It was tough to get anything going offensively on either side," Wainwright said. "Guys were pitching well, mixing up their pitches well and locating ... just an odd game."
Both teams were forced to make a laundry list of defensive changes and use nearly all of the reserves in the bullpen. That meant many pitchers had to take extra at-bats.
The Cards made an early change defensively, subbing out Holliday in the eighth and replacing him with Adron Chambers in left field. Matheny said Holliday was dealing with an unspecified leg issue.
"We went into the last inning with a one-run lead, and we've done that a few times this year," Matheny said. "We were trying to get our best defense out there."
Aside from a pair of singles in the 14th inning, the Cardinals collected just one other hit in extra frames. Royals closer Jonathon Broxton (1-1) tossed the last two innings for the victory. St. Louis certainly could have used Holliday's hot bat in the lineup, as he would have likely hit three times in extra frames.
As it turned out, the Cards lost two of three against their in-state rivals this weekend and are now 1-4 in extra-inning games this season, while dropping to 4-5 in Interleague Play.
With an off-day on Monday before heading to Detroit on Tuesday to begin a nine-game road trip, the Cardinals will have some time to mull over the missed chances they had on Sunday.
"You can't have bad decisions," Matheny said. "As a manager, on the basepaths, you can't have bad decisions in a tight game like that."
Mike Still is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.