ST. LOUIS -- After the Cardinals fought back in the most unlikely of ways and through some swing-and-miss history, two gambles decided a wild extra-inning affair Monday night at Citizens Bank Park -- one by St. Louis' manager, the other by their left fielder, neither of which went the Cardinals'
ST. LOUIS -- After the Cardinals fought back in the most unlikely of ways and through some swing-and-miss history, two gambles decided a wild extra-inning affair Monday night at Citizens Bank Park -- one by St. Louis' manager, the other by their left fielder, neither of which went the Cardinals' way in a 6-5 defeat to the Phillies.
Cradling a one-run lead in the 10th with the tying run on second, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny opted to intentionally walk Carlos Santana with one out, putting the winning run on base. Two batters later, Santana scored when Aaron Altherr sliced a game-winning double off reliever Matt Bowman.
"He's their best hitter," Matheny said of Santana, whom he bypassed in favor of facing Jesmuel Valentin and Altherr. "We set up a double play against a guy who hadn't had an at-bat yet."
Giving Matheny some solace was the fact that the unconventional plan almost worked. Valentin, a rookie who's been used strictly off the bench in his short career, struck out in his lone plate appearance of the night. But that only set the stage for Altherr, whose sinking liner landed just beyond the reach of a sprawling Marcell Ozuna. That Ozuna left his feet permitted Santana to score from first behind Rhys Hoskins, handing the Cardinals their fifth loss in six games.
Per Statcast™, Ozuna had just a 4 percent chance of catching Altherr's liner, which required him to cover 47 feet in 3.1 seconds toward the left-field line.
"The ball died a little bit when I went to slide," Ozuna said. "That was the reason I couldn't catch it. I was not too far. I couldn't do it. It cost the game."
It was a game the Cardinals should have been out of long before, one that an improbable comeback had them believing they should have won. Despite matching a franchise record with 19 strikeouts, St. Louis battled back with a disjointed two-run rally in the ninth, then took a lead on Tommy Pham's homer off Jake Thompson in the 10th.
Kolten Wong's pinch-hit, two-strike single off Adam Morgan in the ninth brought the Cardinals even on a night they spent incrementally catching up -- Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina notched solo homers five innings apart -- and consistently swinging through. They didn't chase Phillies starter Nick Pivetta until the eighth, by which point the righty piled up 13 strikeouts. The next four Cardinals retired went down via strikeout, before Victor Arano struck out Yairo Munoz to seemingly end the game. But Arano's slider skipped past catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing Munoz to scurry safely to first and Molina to score, keeping the Cardinals alive.
"We were faced with adversity all game, but we kept fighting," Pham said. "Games like this, man, it's tough when you're on the losing end."
Starter Miles Mikolas was reduced to a footnote, though the righty's effort continued a troubling stretch for the Cardinals rotation. A source of strength for much of the season's first half, the Cards' rotation has lately dealt with a bout of ineffectiveness, which spread over the past week from Luke Weaver to Michael Wacha to Carlos Martinez.
On Monday it reached Mikolas, if only for one critical inning. Mikolas allowed the first four hitters to score, three on an Odubel Herrera home run and another on Knapp's RBI single, though he rebounded after to complete five innings, allowing six hits and a walk against three strikeouts.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Down, but not out: "Fortunately, we caught a break," Matheny said of Arano's wild pitch, which extended the game. Had Munoz not advanced on the strikeout, the Cardinals' final five outs would've been recorded via strikeout, the last two with the tying run at second base.
"I mean, I've got to make that play," Knapp said. "I've got to block it. I've blocked that pitch a million times. This one just got under my glove. It was a little shorter than I thought it was going to be. I just misplayed it."
Alone at the top: A night after tying Gabby Hartnett for the most games caught for one team in Major League history, Molina moved atop that list all by himself. Monday marked Molina's 1,757th game behind the plate for the Cardinals, passing the Hall of Famer Hartnett, who played 19 seasons for the Cubs.
• Molina makes history behind the dish
HE SAID IT
"We don't teach them to be passive. We teach them to be aggressive. We're talking about inches. We love his aggressiveness." -- Matheny, on Ozuna's decision
"It was a move that I know was a very difficult one to make for a manager. You kind of have to pick your poison. Do you want to face a fairly deadly hitter in that situation, or do you put the winning run on base? It's a tough decision for a manager. I'm not going to second guess Matheny's choice there." -- Phillies manager Gabe Kapler
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Matheny probably never would have walked Santana with first base open had he not challenged a critical play the batter before, after Herrera was ruled safe following an apparent infield single. But umpires overturned the call after a review, determining Munoz's throw beat Herrera, who slid head first into the bag. That erased the potential winning run from the bases, for a moment.
Though his role in the Cardinals' bullpen remains undefined, the club expects to activate Greg Holland from the disabled list before this series continues Tuesday from Citizens Bank Park. Holland missed more than three weeks with a right hip impingement, and his struggles during his rehab. Weaver (3-6, 4.52 ERA) and Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.54 ERA) will match up for the second of a three-game set, with first pitch slated for 6:05 p.m. CT.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.