BOSTON -- A place that has haunted the Cardinals repeatedly over the past 13 years served as the setting for yet another heartbreaking finish on Wednesday, when over the course of the final half-inning that extended nearly 30 minutes, the Cardinals watched their closer leave injured, their manager be ejected and their catcher unable to handle a relay throw that could have pushed the game into extra innings.
The sum of it all was a 5-4 loss to the Red Sox, who took both games in the Cardinals' Interleague visit. The eight-game winning streak that propelled St. Louis to the top of the National League Central has been followed by three losses, leaving the club 2 1/2 games in back of the Cubs.
In trying to dissect the team's sixth walk-off loss of the season, manager Mike Matheny repeatedly came back to one word: "Frustrating."
Successful in all seven save attempts since being reinstated as closer, Trevor Rosenthal opened the bottom of the ninth hardly looking like himself. Two pitches into the inning, Rosenthal, who hadn't allowed a hit on a fastball slower than 96.3 mph this season, served up a home run on a 91.4-mph fastball.
The radar gun caught Matheny's eye, and after Rosenthal issued a walk on his eighth pitch, the reliever's night was over. A pitcher who ranked second in the Majors with an average fastball velocity of 98.5 mph entering the night averaged 93.9 mph on the six four-seam fastballs he threw.
"Something didn't look right," Matheny said. "It just didn't look smooth."
Rosenthal had alerted the Cardinals recently of some renewed tightness in his right arm, though after three days off, he assured Matheny before the game that he'd be ready. Now he's set to be examined by the team's medical staff to determine the level of long-term concern.
Rosenthal's inability to take the ninth left Matheny -- who had already used Seunghwan Oh and Tyler Lyons and was without Matt Bowman, who has a team-high 59 appearances -- to try to piece together the inning using two relievers with little experience in such save situations.
What followed were a pair of calls that not only complicated the inning, but left the Cardinals incensed on a night where frustration with home-plate umpire Chris Segal had been brewing since the early innings. Zach Duke put the winning run on base with a full-count walk to Jackie Bradley Jr. after not getting a checked swing call he thought was warranted.
One batter later, Segal interrupted John Brebbia's rhythm by calling timeout despite no request from either the batter or catcher. Confused by the call, which came on an 0-2 count, catcher Yadier Molina jumped up to confront Segal, who told him he felt Brebbia took too long upon getting set.
Asked if he had experienced a similar call before, Molina afterward said, "Never."
Neither had Matheny, who then became particularly peeved when Segal told him he decided to call time because "he needed a break."
"I told him nobody is here to watch him," said Matheny, who had to be restrained by two other members of the umpiring crew. "What we're trying to do is get [Brebbia] to hold the ball. He shuts down the running game and it also makes it very difficult on the hitter. ... The umpire doesn't need to have a break. That's the first I've ever heard of it. And when he told me that, that was what pushed me over the edge."
Matheny was handed his third ejection of the season, and eight pitches later, Mookie Betts lined Brebbia's final pitch off the Green Monster, scoring runners from first and second. The relay throw by Paul DeJong gave Molina a chance for a play at the plate, but the ball trickled away.
"Tough one," Molina said. "That was a tough one."