ST. LOUIS — Dejected grumblings echoed through the stairwells at Busch Stadium following the St. Louis Cardinals' 3-1 loss in Game 5 on Monday night.
"I don't believe that just happened," one fan said.
"You can't win if you don't score runs," another said, a minute later.
It wasn't clear if they were talking to someone or verbalizing their dismay for all to hear. The Boston Red Sox had managed to take two games in St. Louis and were heading back to Fenway Park for Game 6, one win away from a World Series title.
What doomed the Cardinals in Game 5 — and what they'll have to correct for Game 6 — is their offense. The Cards had four hits in the game, each in a different inning. Matt Holliday's fourth-inning homer was their only run. They couldn't string together anything against a locked-in Jon Lester. There were no threats, no jams to work out of, nothing that struck too much fear into the Red Sox.
"Honestly, you got to give credit to the opposing pitcher," said Carlos Beltran, who was the only Cardinal to get a hit in both Games 4 and 5. "It's not like we're [making] excuses. We were a good team offensively this year, but we just haven't found the ways to put it together. It seems like we put a good rally together and we're not able to capitalize on the rally."
Beltran was standing on deck when Game 5 ended. Postseason juggernaut that he is, Beltran is obviously a guy you want batting in the ninth inning of a World Series game. But this was an instance where Cardinals manager Mike Matheny shuffling up the lineup didn't get him there.
Matheny put Beltran in the cleanup spot Monday. Had he been hitting second like usual, he would have been faced Red Sox closer Koji Uhara instead of watching the final outs of a two-run game.
"Didn't happen," Beltran said afterward.
Before the game, Matheny talked about lengthening his lineup through the middle and trying to get more runners on base for Holliday, Beltran and Yadier Molina. None of them had an at-bat with a runner on base. Allen Craig did, but grounded into a double play. In addition to surrendering only four hits, Boston pitchers didn't walk anybody either.
"It’s really good pitching," Holliday said. "You get to the World Series and part of the reason both teams are here is because they have good pitching. Postseason, it’s tough to score runs. We hit some balls really hard at people, and [Lester] pitched well."
So now what? The Cardinals face John Lackey in Game 6. He pitched in Game 2 and St. Louis won, though it wasn't exactly a dominating offensive performance. They had seven hits in a 4-2 victory, but three of their runs came in an ugly seventh inning that included the two-error, two-run sac fly.
Simply, the Cardinals have a day to wake up their bats. They're hitting .213 in the postseason, the lowest of any playoff team except the Cincinnati Reds, who played one game. In the regular season, the Cardinals hit .269, fourth best in the league. They're a team with four guys who hit above .300 in the regular season and a fifth, Beltran, who hit .296.
St. Louis' World Series batting average is actually better than that of the Red Sox (.218 vs. .205), but like Beltran said, they haven't been able to put together rallies.
"I don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason for it," said Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter. "But you can’t make excuses — you’ve got to find a way to get it done."
Now, more than ever.
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