ST. LOUIS -- Minutes after his bullpen had unraveled in an 8-2 loss to the Reds, manager Mike Matheny stood behind a press conference podium insisting that "this is a better team than how we've been playing."
He won't be around to see them try to get there.
On the heels of a sixth straight loss at home and with questions swirling about the direction the organization was headed, the Cardinals dismissed Matheny shortly after the clubhouse cleared out on Saturday. Coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller were also fired. Bench coach Mike Shildt was promoted to interim manager.
"These decisions are never easy," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "But we felt that a change in leadership was necessary as the team prepares to enter into the second half of the season."
Saturday dissolved into one of the uglier games of the Cardinals' season and set them back with a sixth consecutive loss at Busch Stadium, where they are 23-24 this season. A team that hasn't dropped to .500 since mid-April will find itself back at that mark entering the All-Star break if it can't snatch a victory in the series finale.
The organization is hopeful that a shakeup will help. Ultimately, though, a turnaround will require stabilizing a bullpen that has allowed 26 earned runs over the last five games and igniting an offense that has scored two or fewer runs 27 times this season. Saturday's game eroded under the watch of the bullpen. After a pair of rain delays washed away Jack Flaherty's chance to pitch deep, the Cardinals used seven relievers to cover the final four frames. The Reds scored eight times off the 'pen.
Taking the mound for the first time since having to explain away perceived friction between he and teammate Bud Norris, Jordan Hicks created his own mess when he opened the seventh by hitting Dilson Herrera and walking Billy Hamilton. An unsuccessful attempt to barehand a chopper let the tying run in. Three more scored on hits by Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez.
"The game is definitely on me," said Hicks, whose ERA has jumped from 2.01 to 3.45 over the last three weeks. "I'm supposed to come in and be locked down. That wasn't the case today."
Matheny had double-switched Hicks in with the hope that he could bridge the game to the ninth. Instead, he saw the rookie reliever retire only one of the seven batters he faced.
Flaherty pitched around a 52-minute delay early en route to completing five scoreless innings while his offense built a 2-0 lead. With a pitch count of 69, he likely would have pitched deeper if not for the lengthy delay both teams waited out after the fifth inning.
"Anytime you go out, you are just trying to put your team in a position to win," Flaherty said. "So if it gets cut short by a rain delay, all you can do at that point is have these guys' backs."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
With a chance to build their lead before thunderstorms delayed the game for a second time, the Cardinals ran themselves out of a budding run-scoring opportunity.
A leadoff single by William Fowler and double from Paul DeJong put a pair of runners in scoring position for Tommy Pham, who'd been dropped to the eighth spot in the order in an effort to jolt him out of a slump.
But Pham hit a chopper to third base, where Suarez caught Fowler straying from the base. Suarez tagged him and threw across the diamond to complete the double play. The Cardinals finished the night 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
With a home run to open the bottom of the first, Matt Carpenter moved to within two of tying Lou Brock's franchise record of 21 leadoff home runs. Carpenter has hit four of his career 19 leadoff homers this season, including three within the last month.
HE SAID IT
"Mike Matheny has served the St. Louis Cardinals organization with tremendous dedication and pride, and I am thankful for his service to the Cardinals over the past six and a half seasons. On behalf of the entire Cardinals organization, I would like to wish Mike the very best." -- principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr., on the managerial change
The Cardinals will close out the first half of the season Sunday behind All-Star Miles Mikolas, who will squeeze in one more start before heading off to Washington, D.C. Mikolas (10-3, 2.65 ERA) is the only Cardinals starter to reach double digits in wins thus far and leads the staff with 13 quality starts. Cincinnati will counter with righty Anthony DeSclafani (4-1, 4.43). First pitch from Busch Stadium is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. CT.