Cardinals unravel late

Defensive mistakes turned a close game into the team’s fourth consecutive defeat.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:54 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
Milwaukee’s Bill Hall hits a two-run double in the fifth inning against St. Louis’ Braden Looper on Tuesday in Milwaukee. The Brewers scored four runs in the fifth inning. Looper gave up five earned runs in five innings pitched.

MILWAUKEE — Ben Sheets allowed two runs in six innings, showing no ill-effects from a groin injury he suffered in his last start, and Tony Graffanino hit a three-run homer to help the Milwaukee Brewers beat slumping St. Louis 12-2 on Tuesday night.

Braden Looper and St. Louis were cruising with a 2-0 lead in the fifth. But the Cardinals, playing in their second game since the death of reliever Josh Hancock, fell apart with another sloppy performance. Milwaukee scored 11 runs over two innings and St. Louis lost its fourth straight.

For half the game, St. Louis looked ready to play after being soundly beaten 7-1 the night before in an emotional return to the field.

But with two on and one out in the fifth, Looper (3-2) faltered. Bill Hall laced a two-run double top left-center to tie the game.

Then the mistakes started.

Albert Pujols, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games, cut off the throw home and had Hall hung up going to second, but no one was there to cover the base.

The next batter, Johnny Estrada, grounded to second baseman Adam Kennedy, who made a poor throw to first that Pujols couldn’t scoop.

Geoff Jenkins then singled to center on the next pitch for the go-ahead run. Kevin Mench added a sacrifice fly to give the Brewers a 4-2 lead.

It only got worse from there as Milwaukee, which came into the game tied for the best record in the National League, scored seven in the sixth, sending 10 men to the plate.

Sheets (2-2), who had to be pulled from his last start after three innings with a strained groin, started the rally by ending an 0-for-38 streak with a single and Rickie Weeks doubled to end Looper’s night.

The defense let down reliever Randy Flores, too.

Left fielder Chris Duncan misplayed a drive by J.J. Hardy, who equaled a career high with four hits, to score Sheets and Weeks. Prince Fielder drove in a run, and Jenkins, who added a solo home run in the eighth, hit a grounder off Pujols’ foot for another error to load the bases.

After an RBI ground out by Mench, Tony Graffanino hit a three-run homer off reliever Brad Thompson.

Sheets didn’t need to come back out for the seventh and finished giving up six hits and a walk. He struck out three.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa dropped David Eckstein from hitting leadoff into the eighth position in an attempt to jump start his Cardinals, who he described as “fuzzy” and “out of focus” the entire month.

Early, it seemed to work. Eckstein walked in his first at-bat and Looper, who has been the Cardinals best pitcher with Chris Carpenter (elbow) on the disabled list, drove in a run with a single in the second.

Duncan added a deep solo home run in the third to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead.

But Looper couldn’t get out of the sixth inning for the first time this season, and finished giving up six runs off 11 hits, walking two and striking out five.

St. Louis, which started last season 17-8 in April on the way to winning the World Series, came into this May tied for last place in the NL Central.

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