A swing away from breaking up opening day early and a pitch away from winning it late, the Cardinals accomplished neither Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium.
Instead, a day that began with fond memories of the franchise's deep history morphed into an unwelcome and unnecessary reminder of what dogged it during last season's run to second place.
The Cardinals created far more offensive pressure while receiving the more impressive performance from a starting pitcher but still were sent away with a 5-3, 11-inning loss to the San Diego Padres before a capacity crowd of 46,368 at Busch Stadium.
Rather than capitalize on the sum of their scoring chances, the Redbirds were punished for early missed chances, a fumbled save and late defensive gaffes.
Offering perhaps the day's most enduring understatement, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called it a "weird, difficult way to lose."
The Padres broke a 3-3 tie when center fielder Cameron Maybin completed his relentless afternoon with a two-out single compounded by an error against shortstop Ryan Theriot that allowed the go-ahead run to circle from first base on the play.
When Theriot's throw after Padres third baseman Chase Headley sailed high to the plate, Maybin reached scoring position. Pinch runner Cedric Hunter raced home on another single for a two-run lead off reliever Bryan Augenstein.
"We stole one," Headley said. "But if you can steal one like that it can be the difference in a season. It was last year all over again. That's what we did last year: We won games we shouldn't have won."
And the Cardinals lost one they shouldn't have lost.
"This game was there for us to win," La Russa said.
The day included an appearance by the franchise's Hall of Famers, Stan Musial among them; a first pitch from Jim Edmonds; and numerous other reminders of the bonds that tie a city. It ended badly before a quick-departing crowd.
After trailing three times, the Padres grabbed their first lead in the 11th inning when right fielder Jon Jay's two-hop throw eluded Theriot, who scrambled after it as Headley scored.
"Once it kicks, the first thing you do is look for the runner. I had a shot at him," Theriot said, who later reflected, "A nice little nine-inning Cardinals win would have been nice."
"Obviously, it's opening day and it becomes a bigger deal," left fielder and would-be hero Matt Holliday said. "But it's one of 162 and we've still got a chance to win the series by winning the next two."
Holliday embodied the day's split persona: Twice he put the Cardinals ahead with a first-inning two-out single and an eighth-inning home run; but he also got picked off on an inside move to second base, muting a potential breakout sixth inning against hard-ridden Padres starter Tim Stauffer.
"Today was just a rare day when it works," said Padres manager Bud Black.
Holliday's home run handed a 3-2 lead to closer Ryan Franklin; however, Maybin turned Franklin's fourth pitch of the inning for a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning. Until Maybin's blast, lefthander Trever Miller was in line for his 19th win in 647 career appearances. Franklin's blown save was his first at home since Sept. 19, 2009.
The loss occurred in the Cardinals' first extra-inning opener since April 1992 against the New York Mets. The loss was also the club's fifth straight in a home opener.
"Time to move on," Franklin said. "We've got a lot more games left."
The Cardinals scored twice in the first six innings despite placing nine runners on base before two outs. The Padres scored their final three runs on two rallies that sprang with two outs and nobody on. A fourth scored with two outs following a dropped tag.
The Padres didn't manage a third hit until starter Chris Carpenter had left the game after seven innings. The Cardinals reached Stauffer for nine hits in six innings.
Thursday's loss included the previously unthinkable: in what could be his final home opener at Busch Stadium, first baseman Albert Pujols endured a 0-for-5 game including three double play grounders and a foul pop.
The Cardinals were two for nine with runners in scoring position while hitting into four double plays and losing an out on the bases.
"To his credit, (Stauffer) got out of it. But we had guys on a lot," second baseman Skip Schumaker said. "We just didn't do enough with it."
The organization's winter blueprint called for enhancing an inconsistent offense while hoping spring training could re-establish the club's trademark efficiency.
"It's not like we didn't take time to go over baserunning and situations this spring," said center fielder Colby Rasmus, who tripled to set up the game's first run and reached base four times in five plate appearances. "I just chalk it up to baseball. That happens sometimes. Let's get it out of the way and down the road keep building, building, building."
Carpenter held the Padres hitless for three innings before they tied the game on second baseman Orlando Hudson's sacrifice fly that followed right fielder Will Venable's leadoff double. Carpenter needed only 51 pitches to reach the fifth inning but was hurt there by leaving a two-out cutter where Nick Hundley could pull it for a RBI double with first base open and Stouffer standing on deck.
"I know the situation. I know the pitcher's on deck there. I believed my thought process was pretty good there. I've got him 2-0 (in the count). I don't want to give him a pitch to hit," Carpenter said.
Compounding the bruise, the threat reached Hundley after left fielder Ryan Ludwick jarred the ball from Schumaker's tag on what would have been the third out.
Schumaker explained Ludwick worked an elbow into his glove, a clean play scored a stolen base. "It happened," he said. "You wish it didn't, but it did."