ST. LOUIS (TNS) — Before this miserable week for the Royals, it had been 13 years since a team had swept the I-70 Series in one season.
But the Cardinals used a familiar script, albeit one that didn’t involve a stray animal, and beat the Royals 8-6 at Busch Stadium on Thursday night, completing a four-game series sweep.
The silver lining for the Royals — if there is one — is that they fought back with a three-run eighth inning and twice came oh-so-close to tying the game.
Alas, a loss is still a loss, and the Royals now find themselves with two teams (the Mariners and Rays) ahead of them in the race for the second wild card.
Each of the Cardinals’ wins at Kauffman Stadium, on Monday then Tuesday, was aided by a six-run inning. When the series shifted east, the Cardinals used a slightly different blueprint. They fell behind the Royals by three runs both nights at Busch Stadium, only to rally and take the lead on a grand slam.
On Wednesday night, a field-invading cat preceded a St. Louis slam. On Thursday, it was merely a result of a terrible outing from Royals relief pitcher Neftali Feliz.
The game was tied 3-3 when Matt Carpenter opened the Cardinals’ half of the seventh with a single against reliever Mike Minor. Manager Ned Yost brought in Feliz, who faced four batters and failed to record an out.
Carpenter moved to third when Tommy Pham singled to right, and Pham stole second. Paul DeJong drew a walk to load the bases and Dexter Fowler turned on a 94 mph fastball, sending the ball into the Cardinals’ bullpen in right field giving St. Louis a 7-3 advantage.
In the top of the eighth inning, Royals pinch hitter Brandon Moss stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Moss had been 0 for 7 as a pinch hitter, but he crushed Seung Hwan Oh’s pitch, hitting it off the wall in right-center for a two-run double.
Moss missed a grand slam by perhaps 2 feet.
Whit Merrifield’s sacrifice fly to left got the Royals within one, but Trevor Rosenthal entered for St. Louis and got Lorenzo Cain on a long fly down the right-field line.
The Cardinals pulled a run back against Royals’ reliever Joakim Soria in the bottom of the eighth.
The Royals opened the scoring in the second inning thanks to poor Cardinals defense. Kolten Wong booted Mike Moustakas’ grounder to open the frame and Alcides Escobar’s bunt was fielded by catcher Yadier Molina, whose throw was off the mark at second base.
Alex Gordon singled to load the bases and Drew Butera followed with a soft fly to shallow right field that scored Moustakas. However, Royals starter Jason Hammel’s grounder to third baseman Greg Garcia started a 5-2-3 double play and Merrifield flied to center, as the Royals missed a chance to cash in big early.
In the fifth inning, Cain hit a one-out single and Eric Hosmer walked. Melky Cabrera lifted a fly to right that Cardinals right fielder Jose Martinez seemed to have a bead on, but the ball hit off his glove and Cabrera ended up with a two-run triple that made it 3-0.
An inning later, the Cardinals tied it. Hammel hit leadoff hitter DeJong, who came in to score on Fowler’s double. Yost called on Peter Moylan to face Molina again, one night after Molina’s grand slam proved to be the key blow in St. Louis’ win.
Molina won Round 2, too, spanking a single to left that put runners on the corners with no outs. Moylan appeared to help himself out when he snared a ball off the bat of the next hitter, Martinez. However, Moylan threw the ball into center field and Fowler trotted home as Molina scooted to third.
Yost summoned left-hander Minor, but Wong lifted a fly to left field that scored Molina. However, Minor got out of the inning and kept the score at 3-3.
But, as was the case all week for the Cardinals, they had a big inning that swung the outcome in their favor.