The Cardinals were all set to move to one game behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League wild-card chase before a ninth-inning collapse of near-epic proportions Thursday.
Leading the New York Mets 6-1 after seven innings and 6-2 after eight, three Cardinals relievers gave up six runs in the ninth inning and the Cardinals dropped a devastating 8-6 decision to the Mets.
Instead of being one game behind the Braves with six games to play, the Cardinals are two games back.
There were several key plays in the ninth, but none more so than an error by Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal on an almost certain double-play ball hit by Nick Evans.
Closer Jason Motte, oddly entering with a four-run lead after getting four outs the night before, had walked leadoff man Willie Harris. Motte, after the error, came unglued a bit, walking two more hitters and forced home a run.
Left-hander Marc Rzepczynski allowed a looping, run-scoring single by Jose Reyes that made the score 6-4.
Right-hander Fernando Salas entered and permitted Ruben Tejada's game-tying, two-run double on which rookie left fielder Shane Robinson narrowly missed a diving attempt, the ball tipping off his glove.
Later, Harris singled home the go-ahead runs.
Manager Tony La Russa maintained a stiff upper lip afterward.
"We're disappointed, upset," he said. "But you make a big mistake if you think we're heartbroken. That means your heart's broken. We know what we put into the game. We didn't mail in a series win. We played our (butts) off and couldn't close it.
"It's disappointing. There are things we learned as to why we didn't finish it off. But don't make a mistake and say we're heartbroken. Our heart's beating. We won the series. Get ready for tomorrow."
As to why he used Motte first in the ninth, La Russa said: "That's the call that I made. If you had something different, you pick your guy. I wasn't going to take a chance with a four-run lead of letting them back in the game.
"And Motte was the guy that I thought could make it happen."
The Cardinals play the Cubs at home for three games and are at Houston for their last three. The Braves play three games at Washington before finishing with three at home against Philadelphia.
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