SAN DIEGO — Shortly before they found a way, through video replay, to vanquish the lengthiest scoreless streak of their season, and long before Friday’s game was decided in any way, the Cardinals already had suffered a loss that could hurt as much as any in the standings.
In the third inning the Cardinals’ 3-1 loss at Petco Park, cleanup hitter Marcell Ozuna lunged back toward first base to avoid a pickoff attempt by San Diego starter Eric Lauer. Ozuna’s reach for the bag beat the throw and the swipe tag by first baseman Eric Hosmer. But almost as soon as Ozuna touched first base, his right arm recoiled — as if the base had bit his right hand.
Ozuna was tagged out, and then taken from the game.
When he jammed them into first base, Ozuna suffered injuries to several fingers on his right hand, the Cardinals said, and there is concern that he has a fracture in his middle finger. The full extent of those injuries will be determined Saturday, but manager Mike Shildt said Ozuna is headed to the injury list. The team was leaning toward promoting slugger Tyler O'Neill from Class AAA to take Ozuna's spot on the roster.
"I have concerns," Ozuna said, leaving the clubhouse late Friday.
Ozuna does not wear the oven mitt-like protection on his hands that some players do now to avoid damaging their fingers.
Ozuna has been the Cardinals most consistent offensive force — leading the team in RBIs and homers and positioning himself to be the club’s lone representative in next month’s All-Star Game. Teammate Adam Wainwright had started openly stumping for Ozuna’s inclusion in the Home Run Derby, and the left fielder had expressed interest in participating in the Home Run Derby to Cardinals officials.
A lengthy absence will subtract the cleanup hitter from an offense that has been wheezing for weeks and, at the season’s midpoint, lacks oomph.
"It’s a dent for sure," Shildt said. "This is a guy who has an All-Star-caliber first half in all facets of the game. We’ve got to figure out a way to replace it."
Fernando Tatis Jr. and Eric Hosmer hit back-to-back homers in the sixth inning off Michael Wacha (5-4) to flip a game on the lackluster, low-scoring Cardinals. Tatis became the second rookie shortstop in Major League Baseball history to have at least 10 homers and 10 stolen bases in the first half of the season, and his stolen base Friday came as the Padres extended their lead with a run in the eighth inning.
The Cardinals have scored one run in their past 25 innings.
"Just trying to figure out a way to score runs," Shildt said. "We do what we can to put ourselves in the best position on the bases. Just wasn’t able to do it."
It took replay for the Cardinals to get their first run Friday.
First-base umpire Vic Carapazza had a difficult day at the corner with three of his calls overturned and another challenged on replay. One cost the Cardinals a run. Another gave the Cardinals a run. And the third was a double play that helped the Cardinals slip free of the seventh inning with a double play.
The final two challenges, both made by the Cardinals and both overturned, took less than 60 seconds to reverse. In the fourth inning, Wacha legged out an infield single. Initially ruled out on the play, replays showed Wacha was safe. That allowed Yadier Molina to score from third for a 1-0 lead.
The run snapped the Cardinals’ streak without scoring at 19 innings. That had been their longest drought of the year, surpassing a May mark of 16 consecutive without a run.
It did not do anything to quell concerns about the Cardinals’ offense.
For the second time in as many games, rookie Tommy Edman got the start at third base and atop the Cardinals’ lineup. He had two hits in his leadoff debut Wednesday, and Shildt returned to Edman on Friday in an attempt to kindle a spark.
The rookie did so on defense with two excellent plays to rob Padres of hits, and he nearly did at the plate. With the bases loaded in the second inning, Edman skipped a grounder to first base that was smothered behind the bag. Carapazza ruled Edman safe, giving the Cardinals the run at home scored by Molina. A review of the video of the play overturned the call and left the Cardinals looking for a run — but continuing a trend.
In the inning, the Cardinals got a leadoff double from Jose Martinez, and he got to third base on a single by Molina. The Cardinals had no outs and runners at the corner.
A ball to the outfield, even in the air, gets a run home. A groundball to the right side of the infield could get a run home.
The Cardinals got none of that nonsense.
Three successive groundouts left the Cardinals without a run in the inning, no chance at conjuring a rally of any sort, and another inning in a stretch of struggles with situation hitting. In the eighth inning, Jose Martinez ailed to advance the runner with a bunt, and that proved costly when Molina followed Martinez’s attempt with a single that would have given the Cardinals a second run and tied the game 2-2.
The Cardinals quelled Padres starter Lauer by forcing the lefty constantly into long innings and deep counts. It took Lauer 98 pitches to get 12 outs.
The Cardinals then did little against the bullpen.
"We have that guy chased after four," Shildt said. "In their bullpen at 98 (pitches). Usually when you wear down guys and they make mistakes you do damage, and we haven't been able to capitalize on that damage. Haven’t been able to capitalize when we get into the bullpen early -- which usually is a complete recipe for success."
While the Cardinals groped for runs, Wacha built on the steadiness he found in his start last weekend against the Los Angeles Angels. The righthander had his start nudged back two days to accommodate a home start by Wainwright. Having returned from the bullpen with a better rhythm on the mound, Wacha retired the Padres on 11 pitches in the first inning.
He struck out Manny Machado looking at a 96-mph fastball. He got Ian Kinsler to end the second inning on an 86-mph off-speed pitch. Those were Wacha’s only strikeouts in part because he was able to keep San Diego on the ground for much of the game.
“Michael is in a much better spot,” Shildt said before the game. “His mechanics are more consistent. Throwing more quality strikes. The ball is down. He’s got his signature changeup going. He’s in a good spot.”
He came close to putting the pitch to Tatis a good spot. The rookie tagged Wacha’s fastball on the outside edge of the strike zone over the right-field fence for an opposite-field homer. An inch farther and Tatis is fishing for that pitch. An inch lower and Tatis is missing it or nicking it for a grounder. Instead, Tatis had his 10th home run of the season and Wacha had a tie game. It took four pitches for that to vanish, too. Hosmer drilled a pitch to deep center field at Petco to break the tie and continue the Cardinals’ trouble with homers.
Should the Cardinals need to replace Ozuna on the roster, O’Neill has regained momentum at Class AAA Memphis. He has three two-hit games since returning from injury, and he’s homered twice in his past five games for three RBIs. Going back to just before he had a hamstring injury, O’Neill has a homer in three of his past six games.