ST. LOUIS -- Coming back from a large deficit on Saturday wasn't so much a matter of digging out for the Cardinals. Instead, they didn't need to do much more than get out of the way and let the Cubs dig a hole of their own.
The Cards roared back after a rugged top of the first, turning a five-run deficit into a 13-5 victory at Busch Stadium. Kyle Lohse settled in to last five innings after a shaky first, and the Redbirds' offense unleashed a fusillade that included six extra-base hits. But as much as anything, this game was a matter of the fifth-place Cubs being unable to get out of their own way.
Chicago committed two errors, issued two bases-loaded walks and let another run score while not paying attention. The Cards pushed across eight runs in a fifth-inning meltdown that saw three Cubs relievers unable to stanch the bleeding.
"Some real heroics," manager Tony La Russa said, "and some weird stuff."
Trailing by a 5-2 score entering the fateful frame, the Cardinals got back-to-back one-out base hits to put men on second and third against starter Rodrigo Lopez. An intentional walk loaded the bases, and an unintentional walk to Matt Holliday made it a two-run game. The next batter was David Freese, who hit a potential double-play ball that changed the course of the game.
Second baseman Darwin Barney fielded the ball and flipped to shortstop Starlin Castro as Holliday was bearing down. Holliday made a hard, last-instant slide that took Castro out of the play, preventing the double play and allowing Jon Jay to score. The Cubs felt the play was out of line, while the Cardinals, of course, argued that it was good, hard baseball.
"My thought is, David has been nursing a sore hamstring and I had a huge lead at first," Holliday told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I had time to get down there quickly. I was within reach of the bag. The umpire ruled it a fair play. I was just playing the game I was taught."
"He's out," Castro said. "He didn't have a chance to touch the base. The guy was not even close. He slid hard, real hard. It's not clean. It's not clean."
The problem was that as Castro stayed down on the ground, Pujols came around to score as well, tying the game. The play was never called dead. Cubs manager Mike Quade came out to argue with second-base umpire Derryl Cousins, and was subsequently ejected.
"I'm glad Albert's got his invisi-button working," Freese quipped. "That was the turning point. I tried to kind of drive the ball that AB, get a ball in the air. And I guess I put it in the hole enough. Matt did a good job of taking out the double-play situation, and Albert was heads up, tied the game up. That was a huge turning point."
And yet the inning was nowhere near over. Another walk brought up Yadier Molina, who singled in the go-ahead run and then took second on the throw in. Daniel Descalso was walked intentionally, and for the second time, that ploy was followed by an unintentional walk that brought in a run, this time to pinch-hitter Tony Cruz.
Ryan Theriot, enjoying one of the finest games of his career, capped the rally. Theriot doubled to left field for two RBIs, and the eighth and final run of the deluge came on Alfonso Soriano's error.
That was more than enough for the Cardinals, but they added more just the same. Freese drilled a two-run homer, and Theriot brought home run No. 13 with his fourth hit and second double of the day. Theriot, who had been in a serious slump before the weekend, couldn't have heated up at a better time. The Cardinals are closing in on a deal to acquire Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal.
"That's what he is," La Russa said. "He gets base hits, and he gets clutch hits. That's what he did the whole first half. And then he just went into this funk that was just so weird. It's more like him. He's spraying the ball all over."
The comeback made a winner of Lohse on a day when it looked like he might not survive the first inning. He surrendered a two-run double and a three-run homer with two outs in the first inning, putting St. Louis in a deep hole. None of the runs were earned because they scored with two outs following a Descalso error earlier in the inning.
"I think I came out a little too juiced up," he said. "The ball was up in the zone. I wasn't making very good pitches. The error is one thing, but to walk two guys, I was just trying to be too fine early in the game and dug us a big hole. I felt like after that I made pitches when I needed to and got it rolling."
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.