ST. LOUIS -- The skies cleared over Kauffman Stadium shortly before Friday night's game between the Cardinals and Royals. Now if only Chris Carpenter could do something about the black cloud that has followed him all season.
Carpenter was again saddled with the hard-luck loss as the Cardinals fell to the Royals, 3-0, in the opener of Interleague Play for both teams. St. Louis was shut out for the second time this year and the first time away from Busch Stadium.
Carpenter pitched his best game in a month, even if the score didn't reflect it. Through six innings he was in total control, having thrown 76 pitches while allowing exactly one Royals player to get so far as second base. Things quickly unraveled on him in the seventh, though, leaving him with an undeservedly ordinary line in the box score.
"It's baseball," Carpenter said. "It's the way it goes. You've got to make pitches. You've got to hope for some plays at times, hope for some balls at people at times. There's all kinds of things that can go on. But I'm not even concerned about, to be honest with you, what's gone on. I'm concerned about what's going on next week when it's my turn to take the ball again."
The key blow came on a strange play. With Billy Butler on first and no out in the seventh inning of a 0-0 game, Wilson Betemit lifted a line drive to left center. Colby Rasmus, shading Betemit to the right side, gave chase. At first he did not appear to have a play on the ball, but as he got close it became clear he had a chance. By that time, though, Rasmus was caught in between. He made a dive for the ball but couldn't corral it, and it squirted away from him for a double.
That was the catalyst for an inning that quickly turned ugly. Brayan Pena's sacrifice fly was the tie-breaker, and Chris Getz kept things going with a single to center. Alcides Escobar made it 2-0 with a single, chasing Carpenter. A walk and another sac fly, this one from Melky Cabrera, stretched the lead to three runs before reliever Trever Miller escaped the inning.
"I got a ball in the middle of the plate to Butler for the base hit, or really middle-away," Carpenter said. "Made an OK pitch to Betemit that was up there for a while, but it found a spot. And then the Escobar base hit. I just got the ball up a little bit in the last inning."
Said Rasmus of the double: "I didn't make the catch, so it's hard to say. It's not an easy play, but I don't know."
Carpenter fell to 1-4 on the year, and the Cardinals are a stunning 2-8 in his starts -- 24-12 when anyone else takes the hill. It was the fifth time in 2011 that Carpenter has turned in a quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs) and the Cardinals have lost.
"To score three off the way they were pitching tonight was a pretty big accomplishment," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
As has often been the case this year, a great deal of credit goes to Carpenter's opposite number. Lefty Jeff Francis was excellent, throwing strikes and keeping the Cards off-balance. He looked very much like the pitcher who gave the Redbirds fits for much of his tenure with the Colorado Rockies, relying on location, movement, change of speeds and guile rather than power.
Francis is an unusual pitcher, working with a fastball in the 80s and a curveball in the 60s. That may be part of what makes him such a challenge, however.
"Nowadays, there's not a whole lot of guys pitching below 92," said Matt Holliday, a former teammate of Francis' in Colorado. "But there's still some lefties that can do that."
Even so, the Cardinals had more threats than the Royals did. They loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Tyler Greene grounded into a double play. Manager Tony La Russa lamented the play before Greene's double play, when lead runner Allen Craig failed to score from second on a single.
Three innings later, the Cardinals couldn't convert a leadoff single and stolen base into a run, nor a two-on, one-out chance in the sixth. Reliever Aaron Crow struck out Holliday with two on to end the eighth, ending the Cards' last threat.
The Cardinals are now 26-20 on the season. They have lost four straight road games, but they remain one-half game ahead of Cincinnati in the National League Central.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.