Cardinals get signals crossed

2012-06-18T11:30:00Z 2012-07-10T17:10:48Z Cardinals get signals crossedBY DERRICK GOOLD
June 18, 2012 11:30 am  • 

The chock-full box score will show the loss officially was the result of Yuniesky Betancourt's home run in the 15th inning, but the game was decided much earlier by the missteps, mistakes, miscommunication, and one misplaced pitch that cost the Cardinals.

Betancourt's two-run bolt off reliever Eduardo Sanchez delivered the Royals' 5-3 victory Sunday at Busch Stadium after 5 hours, 458 pitches, and 15 innings. Rather than fixate on how it finished, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny scrolled back through the innings to a botched squeeze play in the fifth, a baserunning flub in the 14th and closer Jason Motte's blown save in the ninth.

All those little mishaps added up to one big miss.

"You can't have bad decisions from the manager, you can't have bad decisions on the basepaths when you're in a tight game like that," Matheny said. "This is as tough (a loss) as they've been. I don't think there is any other way to say it."

The Cardinals led 2-1 going into the ninth as a result of solo homers by Allen Craig and Matt Holliday and seven strong innings from Adam Wainwright. Motte was one strike away from making all the early-game mistakes vanish in the smoke of his fastball. Instead, KC pinch hitter Billy Butler drilled that 98 mph fastball over the wall to force extra innings.

More than an hour later, with few from the Father's Day crowd of 41,680 still present, the Interstate-70 rivals traded runs in the 14th and Betancourt won it in the 15th. The Royals' third victory of the past week in their final at-bat gave them a series win at Busch and left the Cardinals a 4-5 home stand.

Ten innings before Betancourt's homer was the failed squeeze that Matheny said changed the game. The Cardinals, aching for runs, had runners at second and third with no outs after Tyler Greene's single and Tony Cruz's double. Royals starter Luis Mendoza was vulnerable. Matheny was antsy. Wainwright went to the plate warned a squeeze might be called.

Greene got the call for a suicide squeeze "and you're going once you see the ball come," he said. The 0-1 pitch was in the dirt and Wainwright couldn't reach it with the bat. Greene was caught between the bases, Cruz didn't advance, and an inning primed for offense imploded.

Matheny said the first problem was the signs. It was supposed to be a 'safety" squeeze: Greene wasn't supposed to run until Wainwright's bunt.

"It wasn't communicated properly," Matheny said. "One hundred percent on me. We're right there trying to be aggressive and hopefully get a run in with Tyler's speed. That's just not good baseball."

It also was a curious strategy.

With no outs and no force outs on the bases, if Wainwright made an out there would still be two runners in scoring position, and the top of the order up. A big inning was there for the making. Instead, Greene was out, Cruz failed to advance, and the Cardinals didn't score.

"That's the game. Turns the game around," Matheny said. "It's a bad play."

The Cardinals erased the Royals' one-run lead in the next inning with homers from Holliday first, then Craig. But the lack of runs, a recurring theme in Wainwright's starts, would hurt in the ninth. Fireball closer Motte struck out the first two batters he faced. He got to an 0-2 count on Butler with two fastballs and figured he could torch KC's usual designated hitter with another one. Butler was ready for it and sent it 438 feet away for Motte's fourth blown save.

Matheny said any other pitch choice and he "would have been upset." Motte said he wouldn't change the pitch, just its location.

"I was trying to get it up. It wasn't up enough," Motte said. "With me, I'm a fastball pitcher. It's not the pitch. You can't throw fastballs? That's absurd. I'm going to keep throwing fastballs. I'm not going to go out there and all of sudden become a curveball/knuckleball guy. … I was going for the strikeout, try to throw it by him. He guessed right and hit it out of the ballpark.

"It's a game of one mistake in those situations."

The score remained tied 2-2 until the 14th, when Betancourt doubled home a go-ahead run that allowed KC closer Jonathan Broxton, who had warned up several times in the previous hour, to enter. He promptly walked the leadoff hitter, Craig. With one out and Craig at third, Greene lined a shot to center. Craig raced from third instead of tagging up and couldn't score when the ball was caught. He said "it wasn't a smart play obviously."

Yadier Molina rescued him and the Cardinals from the error with a pinch-hit, two-out single to retie the score at 3-3. That was the only run the Cardinals got in nine innings against KC's bullpen. Holliday's spot in the order came up three times after he was lifted in the eighth, partially because of hip flexor pain.

A busy box score will show 15 pitchers used, both teams dispatching every position player they had, and how Betancourt was an unplanned infielder. Betancourt, who had five RBIs against the Cardinals in last year's National League championship series, was an emergency replacement when second baseman Chris Getz pulled up with a muscle strain in the first inning. Instead of a pinch hitter in the middle of the longest game, Betancourt had to play until his hit ended it.

The Cardinals' longest game of the season only felt longer.

"That's how it goes in games like that — little things are going to hurt you," Craig said. "They got some big hits. We got some big hits. They just made less mistakes than we did."

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