MILWAUKEE -- The two loud bangs above Braden Looper's head in the clubhouse stopped him in mid-sentence.
"I have a feeling that the ceiling is going to fall in on me, so it'd be a perfect day," Looper said.
Right now, nothing is able to shake the problems surrounding the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ben Sheets, coming back from a groin injury in his last start, allowed two runs in six innings and Tony Graffanino hit a three-run homer to help the Milwaukee Brewers beat the slumping Cardinals 12-2 on Tuesday night.
Looper (3-2) and St. Louis had 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 in a row.
"We're not doing what we're supposed to do, which is respect Josh," manager Tony La Russa said of the Cardinals' latest performance.
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 to left-center to tie the game.
"I got ahead of him and then just didn't make a good pitch after I got way ahead of him," said Looper, who had an RBI single in the second. "It kind of seemed to snowball from there."
It wasn't entirely Looper's fault.
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, and Kevin Mench added a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.
"Billy Hall's at-bat was really the one that broke the ice for us," Brewers manager Ned Yost said.
It only became worse from there as Milwaukee, which owns the best record in baseball at 17-9 and is eight games above .500 for the first time in exactly nine years, 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 before he could get out of the sixth inning for the first time this season.
Looper yielded six runs off 11 hits, walking two and striking out five.
"I stunk," Looper said. "I'm going to be better than that."
The defense let down reliever Randy Flores, too.
Left fielder Chris Duncan, who had a solo homer in the third, 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, Graffanino hit a three-run homer off reliever Brad Thompson.
Sheets didn't need to come back out for the seventh, yielding six hits and a walk. He struck out three.
"I feel good, like James Brown would say," Sheets said.
Hardy said the Cardinals' struggles have to be attributed to Hancock's death.
"Baseball is one of those mental sports that you really have got to be focused, and I'm sure they're thinking about him still and it's got to be real hard on them," he said.
But Scott Rolen said no one will make that excuse for their funk, which La Russa had described as "fuzzy" and "out of focus" since the beginning of the season.
St. Louis, which started last season 17-8 in April on the way to winning the World Series, is tied for last place in the NL Central at 10-15.
"I believe in this club, and I believe that we're going to fix the problems we're having, but we've got to start by acknowledging that we're having problems and we've got to do better," La Russa said. "That's what I'm doing."
- A private funeral for Hancock's family is being held Wednesday, and the team will join a public memorial service to be held Thursday in Tupelo, Miss.
- Only two pitchers had more appearances before their first start than Looper's 572, Todd Jones (632) and Chuck McElroy (603). He now has surpassed both of them in career starts with six.
- Carpenter threw about 60 pitches to a group of batters before the game. He will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.
- Sheets has had one hit each of the last two seasons and has 26 in his seven-year career.