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NEW YORK • Yes, there was a blown save in the Cardinals’ bubble-bursting 3-2 loss to the New York Mets on Thursday. No. 13 of the season came when Brett Cecil didn’t bounce a knuckle curve on a 1-2 count to pinch hitter Wilmer Flores in the eighth inning and Flores homered to tie the score.

There was not a missed save in the ninth when the Mets won, but there certainly was a blown coverage. Or better yet, there was really no coverage at all.

Trevor Rosenthal first got himself into trouble in the ninth by reverting to past form and walking the leadoff man. With two outs and still a runner at first, Rosenthal allowed a single to T.J. Rivera, moving Yoenis Cespedes to third.

Then Jose Reyes slashed a grounder past first. First baseman Matt Carpenter made a good play well behind the bag to snag the ball but when he turned to throw to Rosenthal, the pitcher hadn’t arrived. As Reyes slid headfirst into the bag, Rosenthal could only jump over him as Carpenter held the ball and the Cardinals could only get a split in the four-game series after they had won the first two.

"Fundamental PFP (pitchers' fielding practice)," said Rosenthal. "You've got to break over on a ball hit to the right side and be ready to cover the bag. I knew (Carpenter) was playing behind the bag and I just got caught watching the play instead of getting over."

The Cardinals are 3-4 on a trip in which they could have been 6-1. Amazingly, they are still just 4 ½ games off the lead in the National League Central but now they are chasing Milwaukee, Chicago and Pittsburgh. At 46-49, they can’t be considered contenders for anything except selling at the trade deadline unless they can find a way to get to .500 in the next 10 days.

Manager Mike Matheny was blunt in assessing the last play of the game. “We’ve got to be there,” said Matheny. “Got to have a pitcher there. And we’ve worked on it, too. That’s the part that’s frustrating. That just has to be something that you’re thinking about ahead of time.”

A dejected, almost angry Carpenter minced no words.

"The ball's hit, it's down the line. I'm almost in the outfield. I turned to look to throw and he's nowhere close,” said Carpenter. "You've got to go to first base and that's all there is to it."

Forced to take a bite out of the ball, Carpenter found that it didn’t taste very good.

“It’s frustrating to give games away like that,” he said. “It just can’t happen.

“You can make errors. You can strike out. But you can’t do that. And he knows it.”

Rosenthal said “for a split second,” he thought Carpenter would get to the bag, forgetting how deep the first baseman was playing when he wasn’t holding the runner on. “I wish I would have maybe gotten a throw and had a chance to tag him or something,” said Rosenthal. “But it’s a fundamental play. If we expect guys to play defense behind us, we’ve got to play our part, too.”

There was to be no “happy flight,” as Rafael Furcal used to say, as the Cardinals prepared to embark for Chicago.

“Today would have been a great opportunity to win ... this series,” said Carpenter. “When you lose by beating yourself, that’s when it leaves a sour taste in your mouth and today that’s exactly what happened.”

Rosenthal (2-4) said had he broken to first in time that Reyes would have been out. “I was pretty close even breaking super late,” he said. “If I go off the bat, like I’m supposed to, it’s, for sure, an out.”

Explaining his leap over Reyes, Rosenthal said, “You’re just kind of hoping for anything. It’s like watching a homer. You’re hoping a guy can jump 30 feet and catch it. But neither of us had a chance to do anything. It was tough to just watch it happen.”

There is no guarantee, of course, that the Cardinals would win the game, even if the out had been made in the ninth. The two teams had been dead even through eight with Tommy Pham doubling home a run to tie the game in the sixth for the Cardinals and homering in the eighth to put them ahead. Both starting pitchers, Lance Lynn of the Cardinals, and New York’s Seth Lugo, pitched strongly for six and 6 2/3 innings, respectively.

But, said Carpenter, “You can’t lose the game. Those are things that you can control. Covering the bag ... he knows. He knows that.”

This happened to Rosenthal on July 1 when he didn’t get to first in time to take the return throw on a potential game-ending double play started by Carpenter against Washington. Rosenthal ultimately had to be relieved with the bases loaded and Matt Bowman rescued him. There was no net on Thursday at Citi Field.

“You do it once, it’s OK,” said Carpenter. “But you can’t let it happen again.”

Relievers often seem more intent on strikeouts than in fielding their position and Rosenthal correctly said, “I can see (that) as a part of my game to work on and fix quickly. It ‘s just a matter of being more conscious of it.”

Surveying the entire inning, Matheny said, “Leadoff walks are going to hurt him. He has the stuff to be dominant in the ninth inning or any inning we put him in. Lead walks hurt. Not fielding your position hurts.”

Cecil, who blew a save in Pittsburgh Sunday before gaining one on Monday here, isn’t blameless in this post-game critique.

Discussing the 1-2 pitch to Flores, Matheny said, “If he bounces it there, I think we’ve got an out.”

And Cecil said, “obviously,” he should have thrown the pitch in the dirt when ahead in the count. He said he had thrown a good knuckle curve earlier. “I made a mistake to try to make it better,” he said.

Spinning on the Cardinals’ revolving closer wheel, Seung Hwan Oh, Cecil and Rosenthal all have walked off losers in the ninth inning on this journey from Pittsburgh, where the Cardinals got the Pirates back in the race, and then here, where the Mets aren’t even in a race.

“We’ve got to put those (games) away,” said Matheny.

Sixty-seven games remain. “We’ve just got to focus on fundamentals, making better pitches,” Cecil said. “Hitting, fielding, everything has got to be better.”

That’s what the Cardinals’ players and staff have been saying for four months now, with little improvement in some areas. “I would have to agree,” Cecil said.

Pham, who has been one of the “go-to” players in the clubhouse now that he has established himself, was strangely quiet Thursday. “I was always told, ‘If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,’’’ said Pham.

“I have nothing nice to say.”

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