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Justin Masterson (copy)

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Justin Masterson throws against the Philadelphia Phillies in the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)

PHILADELPHIA • After winning a nearly five-hour struggle the night before, the Cardinals had little Sunday for well-traveled Philadelphia Phillies righthander Jerome Willliams. Their own starter, Justin Masterson, had little or nothing for the Phillies either, and the result was a 7-1 loss that cost the Cardinals a chance to clinch a series against second-division opposition.

One of the few positives was a stout relief outing by lefthanded rookie Nick Greenwood after Masterson had been peppered for five runs in three innings as he dropped to 2-2 with the Cardinals. The 2013 All-Star acquired from Cleveland has permitted four or more runs in four of his first five Cardinals starts after coming off the Indians’ disabled list, where he had landed with right knee inflammation.

Masterson is slated for a start Saturday in one game of a doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs in St. Louis. But if that doesn’t go any better, the staff will have to reconsider his spot in the rotation in the September stretch.

It went downhill from the beginning for Masterson (6-8), who walked leadoff man Ben Revere to start the game. Revere was No. 2 in the National League batting race when the day began, but he hadn’t walked in 171 plate appearances since July 5.

What followed over the next three innings was a smorgasbord of six hits, five of them singles, and two wild pitches. With his team down by five runs, manager Mike Matheny could go no longer with Masterson.

“It was one of those days he didn’t have a good feel,” Matheny said.

Both Matheny and Masterson contend he is close to regaining his Cleveland form and that of one starry night in Miami, when he pitched seven innings of scoreless ball, allowing three hits.

“We want to see him get there as quick as possible,” said Matheny,

But close rarely counts in baseball.

“He’s not happy with what he’s seeing here,” Matheny said. “He came into a good situation, wanting to help us be better.”

Matheny wouldn’t commit beyond Saturday for Masterson other than to say, “We all need to be at the top of our game, trying to stay in this thing.”

Masterson said he expected himself to pitch better “not just for the playoff push but, just in general. Coming over to a team or even before you come to a new team ... you want to dominate on your day and give the boys a chance to win.

“It’s definitely a hard thing when you don’t go out there and do it and then put it on top that you’re trying to go for a playoff (push).”

The Cardinals started the weekend 1½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central Divison and they remained there after Sunday’s results, which saw the Cardinals’ potential wild-card competitors all lose.

With 33 games remaining, the Cardinals are two games ahead of San Francisco, three ahead of Atlanta and 3½ ahead of Pittsburgh.

Masterson is such a pleasant personality, it’s almost difficult to tell if he has won or lost. He said his sinker wasn’t behaving as he had wanted.

“It’s nice to have that — when you do have your best pitch,” he said. “Unlike today, when we did not.

“But I’m going to stay positive and thank the Good Lord above for the good and the bad.”

Masterson, 29, determined that the difference between success and failure could be as minute as a couple of inches in how his foot lands during his delivery.

“That’s what makes it so frustrating,” he said. “This one wasn’t fun today, but the Good Lord’s working. That’s what I know, whether on me or within baseball or whatever it is.”

The Cardinals scored only on Oscar Taveras’ single in the fourth against Williams, who has been with seven clubs, three this season. They had just five hits, two by Jhonny Peralta, in eight innings.

In their last exposure to Williams, who was pitching for the Los Angeles Angels last year, the Cardinals scored seven runs in 1 2/3 innings off him.

Cardinals center fielder Peter Bourjos was with the Angels then, and he said he more often saw the Williams of Sunday rather than the one who faced the Cardinals last year.

“He had a lot of outings like that for us but there always seemed to be one inning where it would get away a little,” Bourjos said. “It seems like he gets overlooked and (teams) are on to the next guy. I think he got somewhat of a raw deal in Anaheim.”

After 3 1/3 perfect innings of relief, Greenwood weakened in the seventh and Jimmy Rollins cracked his 16th homer after Revere’s single.

“(Greenwood) was incredible for three innings,” said Matheny. “Just like the Phillies needed Williams, we needed either Masterson or the mix of Masterson and Greenwood because we had some guys who threw a lot of pitches yesterday.”

If nothing else, Greenwood’s long effort assured the Cardinals will have a well-rested bullpen entering their important three-game series starting tonight in Pittsburgh. Even Randy Choate and Carlos Martinez had tidy five-pitch and seven-pitch outings Sunday.

“I knew what I had to do,” said Greenwood, whose sinker, unlike Masterson’s, was behaving.

“I had to eat up some innings and keep us in the game and, for the most part, I feel I accomplished that. I just made a bad pitch to Rollins.”

Matheny dismissed any aftereffects from the short turnaround between the end of Saturday’s marathon and the start of Sunday’s fray.

“We’ve kind of committed to being a team that’s not going to use excuses for stuff like that,” he said. “We pushed the bus (departure time from the hotel) back today and we had a lot of life on the bench today. I didn’t feel like we were dragging.

“We are at the end of August and this is a push time. But I didn’t notice anybody barking and anybody not really into where we are right now, because we are in a push.”

The Cardinals, down by a run, had two on with nobody out in the second. But their penchant for passive baserunning caught up with them.

Peralta tagged at second on Taveras’ fly ball to center but did not try for third even though weak-armed Revere, who had no inclination to throw to third, tossed the ball to second.

Had Peralta been at third, he could have scored on Tony Cruz’s tapper.

A minor point, as it turned out, but Matheny agreed that Peralta probably should have gone to third. He added, however, “Jhonny knows himself pretty well. He’s a guy who hasn’t really pushed the baserunning envelope all year.”

“So we’d like to see him do that but we’re not necessarily shocked that he’s backing off because this is kind of what we’ve seen all season. ... He’s a guy we’ve worked hard.”

Peralta, who leads the club with 18 homers, has missed just three of 129 games.