Cards squander chance to pull even with Braves

By Joe Strauss/St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

HOUSTON — Monday night at Minute Maid Park reinforced the belief that, win or lose, nothing about this Cardinals season is allowed to be simple.

Held down by their inability to exploit early chances, the Cardinals and the Houston Astros needed 10 innings before the Astros claimed a 5-4 game that the visitors repeatedly had declined.

A pinch double compounded by reliever Octavio Dotel’s inability to handle a subsequent sacrifice put the Cardinals in a fatal knot. The game ended when second baseman Angel Sanchez dropped another bunt that Dotel unsuccessfully tried to swipe toward catcher Yadier Molina as the inning’s leadoff hitter, Brian Bogusevic, scored.

The Cardinals rallied from a 4-1 deficit but may long kick themselves for their early offensive waste. Fully aware that the Atlanta Braves had lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cardinals failed in their first attempt to pull into a tie for the National League wild card. It remains to be seen whether they will receive another.

The math has become primary-school simple: The Cardinals have two days in which to win at least one more game than the staggering Braves. If not, their season is over.

The Cardinals lost two outs on the bases in the 10th inning. Molina, who contributed a game-tying home run Sunday, reached base for a fourth time Monday by doubling off the left-field scoreboard. He was erased almost immediately trying to advance to third when reliever Mark Melancon gloved Ryan Theriot’s hard-hit shot to the mound. Theriot then became the inning’s last out on a failed steal attempt.