The sweep was in in sight Thursday afternoon, and with Joe Musgrove having a “tired arm,” Padres manager Bob Melvin went early to a bullpen that hasn’t let him down much lately.
It let him down.
Adrian Morejón gave way to Nick Martinez with two on and one out in the seventh inning, and Martinez walked a batter before surrendering Brendan Donovan’s grand slam that ended up being the difference in a 5-4 Cardinals victory at Petco Park.
The Padres took what has become their customary early lead, scoring in the first inning for the fourth time in six games, and then added on. But not as much as they could have or should have.
Musgrove allowed a run in his five innings before Melvin pulled the plug after 72 pitches, saying after the game the starter had a “tired arm” and the plan was for him to throw about that amount.
That gave the bullpen four innings to cover against a Cardinals team that had just scored its first run after 34 innings without one.
Padres relievers had given up runs in tie games and allowed runs that made close games not close anymore, but Thursday was the first time since July 27 the Padres lost a game they led in the final three innings.
The loss was the Padres’ seventh in 73 games in which they have led after six innings. That .904 winning percentage is 10th best in the majors.
With the defeat, the Padres’ leads in the National League wild card race were trimmed to 1 game over the Phillies and 3 games over the Brewers. Both teams had just begun their respective games as the Padres were finishing.
The Padres had shut out the Cardinals in the first two games of the series and won five straight. The loss denied the Padres what would have been a season-high six-game winning streak and kept them from improving to 18 games above .500 for the first time this season and what would have been the first time for a Padres team since the end of the 2010 season.
History was also denied in the series.
Albert Pujols came within three feet of his 699th career home run. That was the closest he came in 10 at-bats in the series to moving within one of the 700 club currently with a membership of just Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. But the fly ball to left field off Morejón in the sixth inning was hit at a mere 93 mph into a breeze.
Cardinals No. 9 hitter Lars Nootbaar did hit a homer leading off the fifth inning against Musgrove to end the scoreless streak by Padres starting pitchers at 31 2/3 innings. It is the longest such streak in the major leagues this season and fell 1 2/3 innings shy of the franchise record set in 1984.
Musgrove issued a one-out walk to Donovan before ending the inning on a double play grounder by Paul Goldschmidt.
That was it for Musgrove, and Morejón pitched a perfect sixth, which ended on Pujols’ fly ball, before getting in trouble in the seventh.
The Padres had taken a 1-0 lead two pitches into their half of the first inning on Jurickson Profar’s home run. They went up 2-0 in the second inning on a walk by Josh Bell and singles by Ha-Seong Kim and Luis Campusano. And they went back up by two in the bottom of the fifth when Campusano reached on an error by Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado and scored on Profar’s double.
After having runners at the corners with one out, the Padres failed to add on in that inning. And to that point, they were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. That would end up stinging.
Manny Machado led off the eighth inning with a home run off Ryan Helsley to make it 5-4. Josh Bell drew a two-out walk before Kim lined out softly to Helsley to end the inning.
Giovanny Gallegos retired the Padres in order in the ninth, with Goldschmidt making a diving catch on a line drive down the line by Profar to end the game.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism