ST. LOUIS -- It had to happen sometime. But did it have to happen now, and like this?
Jason Motte's postseason of perfection was finally spoiled on Thursday night, not by a home run, but by two singles, a missed cutoff throw and a pair of sacrifice flies against two other pitchers. That sequence was enough to send the Cardinals to a 2-1 defeat against the Rangers in Game 2 of the World Series.
The Series heads for Rangers Ballpark in Arlington knotted at one game each, an appropriate score for two teams that have been strikingly evenly matched so far. Each team has scored four runs, and they're separated by one hit over two games. Anything could yet happen, but it appears that the country would be wise to settle in for a long Series.
For the first time since Aug. 3, the Cards will not have a "happy flight." The last 17 times they had traveled, they had done so with a win in their most recent game.
"It's a tough loss, but we have a tough team," said Allen Craig, who singled in St. Louis' only run. "We've battled a lot of tough things this year. We've had a lot of tough losses in the beginning of the year, and all throughout the year. We've had to come back the next day and strap it up and come back and get a win."
This one is in a bit of a different class, though. The Cardinals were three outs from a 2-0 World Series lead, an advantage that has proven to be commanding over the decades. Then in a matter of minutes, without so much as an extra-base hit or even an especially hard-hit single, they were trailing.
With a one-run lead in the ninth, St. Louis handed the ball to the man who has been bulletproof all month: flamethrowing right-hander Motte. He faced two batters, neither of whom hit the ball hard, and he was done. It was enough to make him the losing pitcher.
Ian Kinsler led off the ninth with a bloop single that fell just out of shortstop Rafael Furcal's reach and in front of left fielder Matt Holliday. Kinsler stole second on a 1-1 count, allowing the Rangers to take off the sacrifice after Elvis Andrus had shown bunt earlier in his at-bat.
"My hand just barely got in there," Kinsler said. "It took everything I had. Yadier [Molina] made an unbelievable throw, quick, on the money, and I was just able to get my hand in there."
Thus freed up, Andrus singled to shallow center, moving to second when Albert Pujols didn't corral Jon Jay's throw. The ball bounced just out of Pujols' reach, hopping to catcher Molina, whose throw to second was not quite in time to beat Andrus. Pujols was charged with an error, and the base turned out to be critical.
"I knew there was no outs, and he hit it pretty hard, so I was just trying to keep my throw low, but it wasn't a good enough throw," Jay said. "I was just trying to make sure I kept the ball down."
Motte was far from pummeled, but he was done just the same. Manager Tony La Russa decided he didn't want Motte to face the dangerous but diminished lefty slugger Josh Hamilton, and he summoned Arthur Rhodes, who allowed a tying sacrifice fly. Rhodes was followed by Lance Lynn, who allowed the go-ahead sac fly to Michael Young.
The defeat spoiled a brilliant outing from starter Jaime Garcia and deprived Craig of another star turn. But mostly it served as a reminder that the slightest lapse against Texas' potent offense can be disastrous. And the peril will only increase as the Series moves to the hitter-friendly ballpark in Arlington.
"It takes one hit, it takes one bad pitch in a one-run ballgame," Motte said. "A guy can hit a home run [if] you miss your spot a little bit. That's the name of the game. You go out there, and your job is to get people out. Every out is important. Every out is big. You don't want anyone to get on."
Garcia worked quickly and aggressively through seven shutout innings before being pulled so Craig could hit. The big-inning blues that have plagued him so often were nowhere to be found, and until the ninth, neither was the mighty roar of a Rangers lineup that topped 200 home runs in the regular season.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Craig's seventh-inning pinch-single was the only offense against Colby Lewis and the Rangers' bullpen. The Cards didn't have many chances, and didn't do much with the ones they managed. That left them vulnerable to even a minor hiccup, such as the two hits against Motte to open the ninth.
Lewis was let off the hook by the ninth-inning comeback, and he surely didn't deserve to lose. He made it into the seventh and left in a tie game before Craig singled against Alexi Ogando, though the run was charged to Lewis.
"[I'm] just trying to keep it simple," Craig said. "Not trying to hit the ball too hard. Just trying to get a base hit. You can't miss the pitches that they give you over the plate. I've done a decent job of getting the barrel on it, and they've found holes for me."
Garcia channeled the pitcher who was so strong for the Cardinals in the first half of the season, pounding the strike zone and looking unflappable when adversity threatened. He worked around a leadoff walk in the fourth, and got a key double play after Kinsler's single in the sixth, with the meat of the Texas order looming.
Unfortunately for Garcia, he had another familiar experience: watching a lead evaporate after he left the game. Thursday was the seventh time this season that Garcia left the game with St. Louis out in front, only to watch the Cards squander the lead in an eventual loss.
"It's the game of baseball," Garcia said. "Sometimes stuff like that happens. You've just got to keep your head up and battle."
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.