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07/25/08 1:30 AM ET

Late dinger dooms Cardinals

Franklin allows game-winning home run in ninth inning

ST. LOUIS -- Ryan Franklin turned and it was gone.

Sailing into the St. Louis night was another game the Cardinals admittedly should have won. This time, it was Cardinals-killer Ryan Braun who handed the Redbirds their fourth straight loss with his game-winning home run.

Thursday night was the same song, but to a different tune. On Monday and Tuesday, the St. Louis bullpen inherited a tie game and lead, respectively, only to give the Brewers a game-winning hit in the late innings.

Staggeringly, the Cardinals' 4-3 loss on Thursday was the 23rd defeat this season attributed to the bullpen. And for the first time in more than a decade -- not since July 3-6, 1997 -- the Cardinals were swept at home in a four-game series.

"It's a collective loss," said infielder Aaron Miles. "All four of these losses were all team losses that there was always something else we could do. ... This is one of those games where you look back and there's something you could have done more."

While Cardinals starters are a combined 42-24 -- tops in the Majors -- the bullpen is 15-23 and has been given the decision in five of the Cardinals' last seven losses.

"We're all human, man," Franklin said. "We want to be perfectionists, but none of us are. It's not from a lack of want-to or a lack of willing to want to do it, man. It's just a funk right now."

None of the Cardinals admitted how agonizing this series must have been, but losing the way they did certainly is not enjoyable. With the exception of CC Sabathia's dominant start on Wednesday night, St. Louis led in each game and scored at least one run in the first inning.

Once again, the Cardinals were unable to add any runs throughout the game, let alone pile a convincing lead. On a night when Brewers co-ace Ben Sheets did not have his best stuff, only two Redbirds hitters got on base after the fourth inning.

"We got beat," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "We did as much as we could and got beat. It was a really difficult loss -- a difficult series."

The Cardinals jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first behind the bat of Rick Ankiel. Skip Schumaker singled and stole second to lead off the game, and he scored when Ankiel slapped a hit to right field.

With Todd Wellemeyer mowing down the Brewers through the first three innings, the Cardinals added another tally when Albert Pujols hit a sacrifice fly in the third. After three innings, Wellemeyer had thrown only 32 pitches and closed out the frame retiring eight straight.

Slowly, however, he began to lose his composure. Wellemeyer's pitches missed nicking the outside corner, and home-plate umpire Todd Tichenor refused to give him any calls.

In the fourth, Prince Fielder singled, and Wellemeyer walked Bill Hall. Wellemeyer got ahead of Mike Cameron 0-2, but he threw ball four after Cameron fouled off four straight pitches. Jason Kendall walked on four straight pitches to give the Brewers their first run.

Wellemeyer took exception to the seemingly shrinking strike zone, while La Russa refused to engage in any discussion of the matter.

"I wasn't going to give in," Wellemeyer said. "It was a tough strike zone tonight. You can't give into him or give them something to hit.

"It was revolving. It was hard to hit -- like a carnival game."

Wellemeyer helped his own cause in the bottom half of the fourth inning when he drove a single to right field. Corey Hart misplayed the ball, which rolled all the way to the fence. Ryan Ludwick scored on the play, and Wellemeyer stood on third when the dust settled.

The Brewers added another run to cut the lead to 3-2 in the fifth inning, knocking Wellemeyer out of the game after 92 pitches.

But behind Russ Springer, Kyle McClellan and Franklin, the Brewers only managed two more hits through the eighth inning. Franklin began the ninth by striking out Ray Durham, but then he gave up a single to J.J. Hardy.

Batting .481 (25-for-52) with six home runs and 11 RBIs against the Cardinals this year, Braun did not disappoint. Already with three hits in the game, Braun connected on Franklin's second pitch for a home run.

Braun admired his home run and slowly walked to first base before starting his home-run trot.

"I was locked in," Franklin said. "I knew exactly where I was supposed to throw the pitch. I didn't get it in far enough. ... I made really good pitches and screwed up on one pitch."

Brewers closer Salomon Torres entered in the ninth and struck out the side to complete the sweep.

Lee Hurwitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.