Dodgers-Cardinals: Poor Relief Pitching Dooms St. Louis Sweep

Brian McDowellCorrespondent IJuly 31, 2009

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 9:  Relief pitcher Dennys Reyes #36 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 9, 2009 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Pirates 2-1.  (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Along with 43,000 other lucky fans, last night, I was able to spend an evening at Busch Stadium that was full of impressive Redbird accomplishments. The Cards managed to take the strong Los Angeles squad into extra innings for the second game in a row. Newly acquired slugger, Matt Holliday, hit his first home run in a St. Louis uniform. The Redbirds managed to shut down the bat of Manny Ramirez on the same day that his name was officially announced to be on the infamous 2003 list of players that didn't pass their steroid test. The dreadlocked Dodger left fielder went 0 for 5 in last night's game, much to the delight of the St. Louis fans, who mercilessly booed and heckled him all night.

However, the most important task of all, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers (63-39) for a sweep eluded the St. Louis Cardinals (56-49). Some sloppy plays and poor managerial decisions caused St. Louis to lose the game 5-3.

Starter Kyle Lohse, who has been injured for most of this season, pitched a solid six innings, giving up five hits and only one run. However, predictably, when the game was handed over to the mostly unreliable Cardinal bullpen, things got ugly pretty quickly. With his team up by a run, thanks to two Matt Holliday RBIs, Kyle McClellan came into the game and a two run Raphael Furcal double quickly put the Dodgers in the lead 3-2.

Luckily, an unlikely solo home run by Rick Ankiel tied the score at three. Relievers Trever Miller, Brad Thompson and Ryan Franklin sailed effectively through choppy waters.

Then, in the tenth, LaRussa brought in the always sloppy and unreliable Dennys Reyes, and the Dodgers quickly jumped on him. While only getting one out, Reyes allowed two hits and a walk.

Then, with two men on base, Tony LaRussa made the completely ridiculous mistake of sending "Terrible" Todd Wellemeyer to the mound. As he stepped in, a collective groan could be heard in the stadium ans, I'm sure, throughout Cardinal Nation as a whole.

All season, Wellemeyer has been awful under any kind of pressure, and therefore, should never be sent in to pitch in a high stress situation. He demonstrated that last night, giving up a single to Matt Kemp that drove in two runs and put a much needed victory in the hands of Los Angeles. Foolishly rusting Wellemeyer ended up costing the Cardinals this statistically important game.

As mentioned earlier, Holliday and Ankiel represented the only meaningful Redbird offense. Everyone else in the lineup looked pretty sluggish and sloppy. In all, the team struck out seven times and left six runners on base.

Albert Pujols went 1 for 4, and has been in a cold streak ever since the unnecessarily exhausting All-Star week. Brendan Ryan fouled a ball off his leg in the second and left the game with a bruise.

After besting the league-leading Dodgers for three nights in a row, it is a shame that the Cardinals could not complete the sweep. To add insult to injury, the Cubs blew out the Astros yesterday, and now lead the Central Division by half of a game. Next, it is the Cardinals' turn to start a series with their division rivals, the Houston Astros (51-51). Rookie Mitchell Boggs will take the mound tonight, in Wellemeyer's spot, to try to see if he can reignite the Redbirds' momentum.

During this crucial time in the season, St. Louis cannot afford to fall too far behind in their division. I think they have a strong enough offense to keep competitive, particularly if Pujols gets back to his old self again. Plus they do have some great fielders and starting pitchers, that could really serve this team well down the stretch. However, winning the division is going to mean avoiding costly managerial decisions of the type that were seen at the end of last night's game. If LaRussa can withhold his own worst instincts, this year could be a memorable one for fans of the Cardinals.