CHICAGO – There were the four double plays, one in every inning from the fifth to the eighth. Mix in a wild pitch, an error and a shaky outing from a usually reliable reliever, and that was enough.
At the plate and in the field, the Cubs just plain sputtered when they had to make a play Wednesday.
Anthony Rizzo had three hits and Nate Schierholtz doubled home a pair of runs, but the Cubs blew a late one-run lead in a 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
“We just can’t seem to shut anybody down in the sixth, seventh inning,” manager Dale Sveum said. “We’re getting two strikes on people, we just can’t make a pitch when we have to.”
Carlos Beltran had three hits and two RBIs as St. Louis won for the seventh time in eight games and improved to a major league-best 14-7 on the road. The Cardinals went 5-1 on a six-game swing to Milwaukee and Chicago, with the lone loss coming Tuesday in their first game of the season against the last-place Cubs.
“We’ve been an opportunistic team,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We make the most of the opportunities that we’re getting, even though they’re not that many right now. And then they’re resilient, they just keep coming back.”
The Cardinals trailed 4-3 before Beltran singled in Matt Carpenter in the seventh, and Jon Jay drove in Yadier Molina with a tiebreaking single against Michael Bowden (1-2) in the eighth. Each rally featured a costly mistake by the Cubs, with Carpenter moving to third on an error by right fielder Nate Schierholtz and Molina advancing to second on a wild pitch.
Cody Ransom had two hits and Luis Valbuena scored two runs for Cubs, trying for their second three-game winning streak this season. Instead, the Cubs finished a 4-6 homestand.
Beltran’s tying single on a 3-2 pitch was the first run allowed all season by left-hander James Russell, who began the year with 13 scoreless innings over 17 appearances.
“I feel like the 2-2 pitch to Beltran could have gone either way,” Russell said. “But that’s the way it goes sometimes. If I make a better pitch to Carpenter then I’m not in that situation.”
The Cubs had 11 hits, but were hurt by all the double plays. The last one was particularly heartbreaking, with the potential tying run on third.
“We just couldn’t get the ball up in the zone in those situations,” Sveum said. “We were swinging at balls below the zone and that was the difference.”
Four Cardinals relievers combined for 3 2-3 innings of two-hit ball after Jake Westbrook had his worst start this season. Seth Maness (2-0) got five outs to get the win and Edward Mujica worked the ninth for his ninth save in nine opportunities.
“They did a great job,” Westbrook said. “They got into a little trouble, but then they found ways to get out of it.”
The afternoon game on a picturesque spring day in Chicago attracted 26,354 to Wrigley Field, and fans were treated to a little bit of everything. There were a couple of adventures on the basepaths, a rarely seen 4-2-3 groundout and a bunch of singles — just three of 22 hits were for extra bases. Julio Borbon of the Cubs was called out for interference for running inside the baseline in the seventh.
Chicago used Schierholtz’s two-run double, which caromed off the wall in foul territory and straight out into right field, and a well-placed grounder by Dioner Navarro to take a 4-2 lead in the fourth.
The Cardinals had their infield in with Navarro at the plate, but Schierholtz scored easily. With Molina standing in front of the plate and pointing to first, Carpenter still came home with the throw from second, and the Gold Glove catcher made a strong throw to first to retire the lumbering Navarro.
Westbrook allowed four runs — three earned — and nine hits in 5 1-3 innings, increasing his ERA from 1.07 to 1.62. He had allowed just four earned runs all year.
“I was battling my location today,” he said. “Kind of fighting pretty much all day.”
Carlos Villanueva pitched 6 2-3 innings for Chicago and was charged with three runs and seven hits. He has a 3.02 ERA in seven starts, but only one victory.
“You can see the boys coming alive now. The weather is warming up a little bit. We’re right there,” Villanueva said. “We’re close. Keep chipping away.”
NOTES: Schierholtz made two nice catches in right. ... Cubs RHP Kevin Gregg has converted each of his five save opportunities since he was promoted from Triple-A Iowa on April 16, seizing the vacant closer role that’s already been held this season by Carlos Marmol and injured RHP Kyuji Fujikawa. “Gregg’s our closer. That’s pretty much the way it is right now,” Sveum said. ... Cubs 2B Darwin Barney and LF Alfonso Soriano got the day off. ... Chicago begins a three-game series at Washington on Friday. RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-4, 3.09) is scheduled to face Washington LHP Ross Detwiler (1-3, 2.50). ... The Cubs announced that 3B Ian Stewart cleared waivers and was outrighted to Iowa.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap