Miscues foul up Cardinals
Wells, Redbirds can't get past errors vs. Braves in opener
ST. LOUIS -- First it was bad, and then it just got plain ugly for the Cardinals on Friday night.
For the second straight game, the Cards suffered from ineffective starting pitching and choppy defense, and they lost the first game of a three-game series to the Braves, 7-2.
Starter Kip Wells was roughed up, giving up seven runs -- five earned -- in four innings, while also picking up his 14th loss of the season.
And that wasn't even the worst part of the evening.
For the second straight game, the Cardinals committed four errors and have now made 10 miscues in the field during their current homestand. It brings up a problem that the Cards have been dealing with for nearly the entire season. Friday's game marked the fifth time this year that they've had four errors in a game.
The 2006 club that captured the World Series never had a game in which it committed more than three errors, and the Cards had committed more than three errors in a game just seven times in this decade, prior to the 2007 season.
"We mugged some plays tonight that we usually make, and it made for a tougher night than it had to be," Cards manager Tony La Russa said. "We had a bad defensive night. We have a good defensive club."
Of the four errors, some proved to be more costly than others, and none was more damaging than shortstop David Eckstein's error in the fourth inning.
After the two teams traded two runs in the third inning, the Braves blew the game wide open in the fourth. After Yunel Escobar led off the frame with a single and Willie Harris drew a one-out walk, Wells got Kelly Johnson to hit a sharp ground ball to second base. Brendan Ryan ranged toward first base and made a nice pick on the play. He turned his body and threw a strike to Eckstein, who was covering second base.
Eckstein couldn't corral the potential double-play ball, and Escobar scored all the way from first and Harris moved to second to keep runners on first and second with just one out.
La Russa came out to argue with second-base umpire Jim Reynolds, but Reynolds said Eckstein never caught the ball cleanly before trying to transfer it to this throwing hand.
"I don't think I had it either," Eckstein said. "I was trying to make the turn too quickly. I have to make the play first. [The throw] kind of handcuffed me."
After that, Wells ran into quite a bit of trouble.
The next hitter, Chipper Jones, hammered a double to right-center field, scoring Harris and Johnson to make it 5-2. It wasn't over just yet. Mark Teixeira followed suit with a single that scored Jones. Three hitters later, Andruw Jones doubled down the left-field line, scoring Teixeira and capping the five-run fourth for the Braves.
Wells retired John Smoltz for the final out of the inning, and he exited the game after throwing 94 pitches through four innings.
"Throwing  pitches in four innings is a pretty taxing assignment," Wells said. "I found myself trying to make better pitches because I was behind in the count, and then you look up at the scoreboard and see that you've thrown close to 100 pitches."
Wells was only on the mound for two of the four errors that the Cards committed, but it still made for a tougher night than usual for the right-hander.
"Some of those are tough plays, some aren't," Wells said. "They weren't all blatantly poorly played balls. It's just the way it goes. Those things seem to happen when you're struggling and things aren't going your way."
A five-run lead was more than enough for Smoltz. The crafty veteran, who still overpowers hitters, went eight innings and struck out six, giving up two runs on six hits and walking none.
Once they were trailing, the Redbirds' only real threat came in Smoltz's final inning. After Aaron Miles led off the eighth with a single, Ryan lined a ball to Andruw Jones in center field. Jones came on and made a diving catch to rob Ryan.
The next hitter, Rick Ankiel, singled to put runners on the corners with one out to give the Cards another chance. It ended quickly, though, as Chris Duncan struck out looking and Albert Pujols grounded out to third.
"I give [Smoltz] a lot of credit," La Russa said. "But we have to generate some tougher at-bats against him than we did. He was very good tonight, but we could have been tougher on him."
In the end, though, the most glaring item on the scoreboard was the No. 4 under the error column for the Redbirds.
It marks just the first time since 1962 that the Cards have put up back-to-back four-error games. St. Louis' other two errors came in the eighth and ninth, courtesy of Ryan and Scott Rolen, marking the third baseman's second gaffe of the night.
"The bottom line is whether you win or lose, and we've lost the last two nights," Eckstein said, "you can't worry about how it happened."
Daniel Berk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.