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07/10/08 12:18 AM ET

Comeback bid spoiled for Cardinals

Late rally erased by Phils' homers; Mulder lost early in tilt

PHILADELPHIA -- Though the air was let out of their tires early on Wednesday night, the Cardinals still had eight innings to play. To their credit, they nearly eked out a win.

After Mark Mulder's comeback was again thwarted by shoulder discomfort, this time with one out in the first inning, his St. Louis teammates turned in a noble effort in a 4-2 loss to the Phillies. Solo homers by Ryan Howard and Pedro Feliz in the eighth inning provided the winning margin for Philadelphia.

"We almost snuck that one," lamented manager Tony La Russa. "That was disappointing."

Mulder, making his first start since September of last year, lasted one-third of an inning before coming down with still more left shoulder trouble. Brad Thompson pitched admirably in relief of Mulder, lasting 4 1/3 innings, though he faded in the fifth and allowed two runs. An RBI triple by Jimmy Rollins put Philadelphia on the board, and Howard added a two-out, run-scoring single that made it 2-0.

"It was a good at-bat with Howard," Thompson said, "and he just put the bat on a changeup."

Yet the Cards got Thompson off the hook with a rally against rookie lefty J.A. Happ and reliever Chad Durbin in the seventh. Albert Pujols lifted a sacrifice fly to get St. Louis on the board, and Troy Glaus poked a game-tying RBI single. But after an intentional walk to Rick Ankiel, pinch-hitter Joe Mather struck out with the bases loaded to end the threat.

Overall, however, Happ kept the Cards' bats quiet. He worked around two-first inning walks and two more free passes in the fifth.

"I thought we had a pretty good plan tonight against the kid, but I think he pitched well," said Aaron Miles, who was 0-for-3.

After the Cards tied the score, Kyle McClellan pitched a perfect seventh -- though he received a scare when Chase Utley hit a fly ball that took Ryan Ludwick almost to the wall in right.

McClellan got ahead of Howard, 0-2, and wanted to get the slugger to chase a pitch out of the strike zone. Instead, he left it up and over the plate, and Howard punished him for the mistake.

"He came in and pitched a great seventh inning, and then he gets 0-2 and he needed to bounce it," La Russa said. "It wasn't a bad pitch, but he needed to bounce it, and [Howard] hits it out of the park. He gets the loss. It would have been a great win. It ends up being a tough loss."

Pedro Feliz followed three batters later with a solo homer off of Chris Perez for the final margin. The Cardinals put two on against Brad Lidge in the ninth, but Ankiel struck out on three straight sliders to end the game.

The Cardinals fell 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs in the National League Central, but they remain one-half game ahead of Milwaukee for the Wild Card lead as well as second place in the division.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.