Cardinals players reflect after NLCS collapse

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 | 9:47 p.m. CDT
The Cardinals' Pete Kozma wipes off the rain in a disheartened St. Louis dugout during the ninth inning of Game 7 of the NLCS on Monday against the Giants. Host San Francisco won the game 9-0 to take the series.

ST. LOUIS — Kyle Lohse got to bed at 5:30 a.m. after the St. Louis Cardinals' flight following a most unpleasant end to the National League championship series against the San Francisco Giants.

Fatigue only added to the aftershock of a spectacular nosedive as players cleaned out their lockers Tuesday at an empty stadium still adorned with bunting. The pitcher's mound and home plate area were also covered in anticipation of a World Series opener that won't take place in St. Louis.

It might be the end of the line with the Cardinals for Lohse, who confessed to being a bit "delirious" from lack of sleep while discussing his future.

The rotation is full if Jaime Garcia rehabs successfully from a shoulder injury, with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook under contract.

Given a choice, Lohse would like to stay put.

"Yeah, definitely," he said. "It's been a great place for me. A lot of teams just try to be competitive, but this organization is all about trying to win another ring."

Then he added, "It's a business. It's a fun game, but a business. I haven't heard anything here, so that doesn't sound good."

The 34-year-old Lohse is in a much better spot than in 2008, when he bided his time by throwing to college hitters early in spring training before signing a one-year deal with the Cardinals in March. He didn't make it to free agency after that season, getting a four-year, $41 million extension in late September.

This time he is coming off his best season, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA. Wherever he ends up, Lohse stressed that he wants to play for a winning organization.

"I'm not going to be obviously jumping at the first offer out there," Lohse said. "It's too early right now because I don't know which teams are interested, and obviously I haven't heard from anybody.

"It's got to be a good situation."

Nearly everyone else will return next year for another try. They will need a while to purge the awful taste of blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Giants and missing a chance to defend their World Series title.

The handful of players who showed up during the time reporters were allowed in the clubhouse on Tuesday tried their best to accentuate the positive. Center fielder Jon Jay had empathy for the Washington Nationals, who seemed to have the Cardinals right where they wanted them before coughing up a 6-0 lead in Game 5 of the NL division series, and the Rangers, who were on the verge of closing out the World Series in six games last year.

St. Louis manager Mike Matheny spent much of the day, along with the coaches, meeting with the front office. Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak are likely to address the season later in the week.

"It's tough to swallow, but in baseball, that's the way it goes," Jay said. "We were on the other end of the stick last year. It was a great ride, and now we know what it feels like."

The Reds do, too. Cincinnati had a 2-0 advantage over the Giants in the NL division series and lost the final three games at home.

"I don't know if it's harder to take," Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said Monday night after the Game 7 loss. "I think everybody in here wishes it ended differently, but they have a great team. The Reds had them that way, too. They're better than us."

Before coming up empty in Game 7 of the NL championship series, the Cardinals had tied a major league record with six straight victories in elimination games.

After taking a 3-1 series lead, Cardinals players spent time on the podium answering questions from media members who already had them penciled into the World Series about why their organization has been so productive. Then they fell apart, getting outscored 20-1 the last three games to become the 12th team to blow a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series.

They batted just .190 with 27 strikeouts in the three losses, committed four errors, and were 1 for 21 with runners in scoring position. Starters Chris Carpenter, Lance Lynn and Lohse gave up 14 runs in 9 2/3 innings, and allowed Giants pitchers to drive in three runs.

Lohse got the hook after retiring just six batters in Game 7.

"I know in that situation he's got to pull the trigger quick," Lohse said. "It was just unfortunate the way it kind of snowballed on us. Little things, you look at the broken bats, the choppers off the plate.

"Sometimes you just get the short end of it."

The middle of the lineup was a trouble spot in the NLCS.

Allen Craig's .400 average with runners in scoring position led the majors, but he was just 3 for 24 with two RBIs. Holliday hit .200 with two RBIs while bothered by a back injury that sidelined him one game. David Freese, the NLCS and World Series MVP last fall, batted .192 with a home run and two RBIs. Yadier Molina batted .393, but 10 of his 11 hits were singles and he had just two RBIs.

They stewed over all of the failures on the red-eye flight home.

"The last three games happened fast, and they really came out swinging the bats and pitched really well and played great defense," Craig said. "We kind of didn't do any of those very well."

Right after absorbing his third Game 7 loss with three organizations, outfielder Carlos Beltran kept it in perspective.

"You want to get to the next level, but sometimes that doesn't happen, so you have to understand that this game is like that," Beltran said. "As long as you go out there and give your best and try to do the best for the team, that is what's important."

Cardinals League Championship Series

(won 6, lost 5)
2012 — Lost to San Francisco Giants, 4-3
2011 — Beat Milwaukee Brewers, 4-2
2006 — Beat New York Mets, 4-3
2005 — Lost to Houston Astros, 4-2
2004 — Beat Houston Astros, 4-3
2002 — Lost to San Francisco Giants, 4-1
2000 — Lost to New York Mets, 4-1
1996 — Lost to Atlanta Braves, 4-3
1987 — Beat San Francisco Giants, 4-3
1985 — Beat Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2
1982 — Beat Atlanta Braves, 3-0
Record — won 33, lost 33

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