ST. LOUIS -- Prior to Sunday's game, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny talked at length about why his club has struggled to win close games this season. Matheny explained that there were a lot of reasons for the trend, but he didn't have a definitive answer.
Rafael Furcal did, however, have the answer on Sunday, hitting a two-run single with two outs in the ninth to give the Cardinals a 5-4 walk-off win over the Marlins at Busch Stadium in the final game before the All-Star break.
"We took our best shot," Matheny said. "The guys went out there and fought and played hard like they did all season. They're just relentless in how they keep fighting and coming back. It's very rewarding to be able to head out with that kind of win."
The Cardinals were down, 4-2, going into the ninth after their bullpen squandered a one-run lead in the seventh. But St. Louis' offense found life in desperation time, as Miami closer Heath Bell loaded the bases with one out.
Tony Cruz hit a sacrifice fly to cut Miami's lead to one, bringing Daniel Descalso to the plate with two outs. Descalso had entered the game as a defensive sub in the ninth, and he quickly fell behind 0-2. After a lengthy 10-pitch at-bat, Descalso drew a walk to load the bases.
"I fell behind, but the at-bat's not over -- you still have to put in work," Descalso said. "You've got to get [Bell] in the zone. He's been a little erratic lately, and as you saw today, when you lay off the balls, take your walks, he'll come over the middle of the plate."
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen has noticed the same thing about Bell.
"I stand behind him," Guillen said of his closer, who suffered his sixth blown save of the season. "But on the other hand, he's got to be better than that. If he's not getting better, I'll find a solution. It gets tiring to watch this."
Bell again got to one strike away from a victory, but Furcal drove a 1-2 curveball into left field. Matt Carpenter scored easily from third, and David Freese -- who had been scratched from the lineup less than a half-hour before the start of Sunday's game, and who drew a walk in a pinch-hit at-bat earlier in the inning -- slid in just ahead of left fielder Logan Morrison's throw.
"I just wanted to make him make pitches and put the ball in play," Furcal said. "I didn't want to strike out or try to pull the ball. I'll swing at whatever they give to me, drive it the other way and that's what happened."
The Marlins had taken a two-run lead in the seventh on a three-run pinch-hit homer by Austin Kearns off Victor Marte. Maikel Cleto gave up a one-out double to Omar Infante and walked John Buck before getting pulled from the game to set the stage for Kearns' homer.
After Fernando Salas set down the Marlins in order in the eighth, Mark Rzepczynski gave up a pair of singles and walked two as well. Matheny called on Mitchell Boggs to clean up the situation, and Boggs struck out Donovan Solano to end the inning and leave the bases loaded.
Having used six relievers, Matheny said he had to consider warming up some of his starters, who were all volunteering to help out in any way.
"It would have been pretty creative," Matheny said.
Just as the bullpen struggled with its command, St. Louis starter Joe Kelly was off the plate from the get-go. After issuing back-to-back one-out walks in the first inning, Hanley Ramirez stole third and catcher Tony Cruz's throw to third sailed into into left field. Ramirez scored easily to give Miami a one-run lead.
Kelly pitched his way out of a jam in the third, stranding a runner at third. He walked pitcher Anibal Sanchez to start the inning, and Sanchez moved up to second on a sacrifice bunt. Kelly then got Ramirez to ground out and Carlos Lee to fly out to end the inning.
While Kelly allowed a season-low two hits and one unearned run over six innings, the 24-year-old right-hander struggled with his command throughout the day. He set a career high with five walks, and said he had trouble adjusting to the strike zone. Kelly had walked two in 15 1/3 innings over his first three starts, but has walked a total of nine batters in his last two outings.
"It wasn't as good as I wanted to be," Kelly said of his command. "And a small strike zone, that's where you have to deal with, that adversity right there. You can't make excuses, and you have to pitch to what the guy back there wants."
The Cardinals improved to 5-2 against Miami this season, and are now 14-21 in games decided by two runs or fewer. While their record in tight games is not ideal, Sunday was a step in the right direction for the Cardinals as they head into the break.
"Just the positive vibe you got, it's probably as good as any one we've had," Matheny said. "It's a great way to send these guys off. They played hard this first half, plus a couple games, and it'll be nice for them to stew on that for a while and think about the positive things we have ahead of us."
Mike Still is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.