ST. LOUIS -- For weeks the St. Louis Cardinals have played hurt, played against the odds, played to survive. But on Tuesday night, one of their Achilles' heels this season -- grounding into double plays -- came back to hurt them. And now, in spite of a stellar outing from their starting pitcher Jaime Garcia and a late-inning rally, they are one loss away from their season ending.
That's because one pitch by Garcia gave the Phillies the runs they needed and a key double play off the bat of Allen Craig in the eighth inning, in part, led to a 3-2 Cardinals loss in Game 3 of the division series. Despite the thrilling finish -- in which the Cardinals threatened in each of the last three innings, including having the winning run at the plate in the ninth -- the reaction in the clubhouse afterward ranged from blaming Major League Baseball for the poor afternoon start time to giving credit to Cole Hamels and the Phillies.
Albert Pujols, a free agent this offseason who could be playing in his last game as a Cardinal on Wednesday, was frustrated by the playing conditions, induced by the 4 p.m. local time start.
Maybe if we were the New York Yankees maybe we would have played an 8 [p.m.] game today. It is what it is. I just don't understand when we play a 4 [p.m.] game.
"-- Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols
"We can't do anything about it," said Pujols, who had four hits, including three doubles. "We've been talking all year long, there is nothing we can do about it. Maybe if we were the New York Yankees maybe we would have played an 8 [p.m.] game today. It is what it is. I just don't understand when we play a 4 [p.m.] game. The league knows we have tough shadows out there, but there's nothing you can do. They're making their money, they're paying their money. I guess they put the game time however they want it."
Not all players were in agreement with Pujols, but it seemed to be a frustration some felt. Other frustrations included leaving 14 men on base Tuesday night, and the Cardinals' inability to avoid the double play -- which plagued them all season -- a key factor in the game.
This season the Cardinals led MLB by grounding into 169 double plays. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that was 15 more than the next team (Orioles, 154), and 46 more than the next team in the NL (Cubs and Pirates, 123).
And in the eighth inning, with the bases loaded against Phillies closer Ryan Madson, Craig hit a wicked shot right at Chase Utley, who turned it for a double play. It negated the momentum Matt Holliday, injured and barely able to swing a bat, brought when he hit a pinch-hit single to give St. Louis two runners on and one out.
"[Craig] hit that ball as hard as you can hit it," Lance Berkman said. "It just happened to be right at Chase. We thought there was a decent chance we'd tie the game right there."
And for good reason -- the Cardinals also had the best offense in the NL this season, a reason, perhaps, why they had so many opportunities to set the double-play mark. Berkman, who hit into a fielder's choice in the seventh inning, which took a runner out of scoring position, was asked about the team's double-play woes. His answer was deadpan.
"We take pride in all of our offensive records, including the National League record for hitting into double plays," he said.
The talk about shadows, game time and double plays overshadowed Garcia's start, which was dominating. He threw first-pitch strikes to the first 10 hitters he faced, and didn't get into a two-ball count to any of the first 12 batters in the game. But there was that seventh inning, when, with Shane Victorino at second after a passed ball by Yadier Molina and two outs, Garcia intentionally walked Carlos Ruiz. Ben Francisco, pinch-hitting, took at 1-0 pitch and lined it into the left-field bullpen.
Garcia had been cruising up until that point, then suddenly was staring at a 3-0 deficit. He was asked whether it was his or manager Tony La Russa's decision to walk Ruiz.
"That was not my idea," he said. "That's what he wanted to do and we did."
Garcia was asked if he wanted to face Ruiz.
"My job is to pitch whenever I've got to face a hitter," he said. "I made a mistake when I had to make a pitch and I paid the consequences."
La Russa took the blame.
"That was bad managing," he said.
Whether it was one passed ball, one double play, one bad pitch or one bad managing decision, the Cardinals failed to take the lead in this series when they had the chance. They stormed back this season after being 10½ games out in the wild-card race to make the postseason. There was talk in the clubhouse after Game 3 about how they can fall back on that.
"The heart and guts that this club has demonstrated rallying like they did is just off the charts," La Russa said. "And there's no doubt in my mind that you will see it again [in Game 4]."
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.