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Solid Lynn tagged with first loss thanks to quiet bats

April 24, 2014
INDIANA SPORTS PAGE



ST. LOUIS PRESS RELEASE

NEW YORK -- Lance Lynn is no longer perfect in April, and the Cardinals' sluggish offense continues to demand nothing short of perfection on the mound and in the field in order to stay afloat.

Lynn suffered the first opening-month loss of his career as the Cardinals fell to the Mets, 4-1, in Thursday's series finale. Lynn, who entered the game with a 4-0 record on the season and 12-0 record overall in March or April starts throughout his four-year career, allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits in 6 1/3 innings, while the Cardinals struggled to find answers against Mets starter Bartolo Colon and the New York bullpen.

Lynn matched Colon pitch for pitch through three hitless innings to open the game and finished with nine strikeouts, but he began to unravel after a towering home run by Chris Young in the fifth. Lynn's throwing error helped the hosts break a 1-1 tie in the sixth, and the Mets pushed across two more runs in the seventh to take their third win of an offense-starved four-game set in Queens in which a total of 15 runs were scored.

Entering Thursday, only the Royals had hit fewer home runs than the Cardinals' total of 12 through 23 games, and the combination of a cold, windy week in New York and Citi Field's spacious dimensions did the St. Louis lineup no favors. Since Citi Field opened in 2009, the Cardinals have dropped five of their seven road series against the Mets.

"We're not stacking hits on top of each other," manager Mike Matheny said. "We're not getting the big hit. You can't expect to win anything, and we just didn't have a whole lot to work with here. For whatever reason, it seems like we've had a tough time here playing the last couple of times."

Young's long home run in the fifth was the first blemish on an excellent start to Lynn's outing, as the center fielder crushed a 2-2 fastball up in the zone and headed for the outside edge of the plate for his first homer as a Met -- a no-doubter that landed in the second deck in left field.

"That's just part of the cat-and-mouse game of baseball," Lynn said. "He went up and got a pitch out of the zone up and away from him that I've had success with in my career, especially in a strikeout count. You tip your cap to that one. That's a hard ball to pull, so I was kind of impressed with it."

Though not as dramatic as the conditions in Wednesday's 3-2 loss, a strong wind blowing left to right across the diamond ensured another low-scoring affair, with Young's blast the memorable exception.

"This wind we've been playing in this week has been crazy," Young said. "The wind's been swirling around. This yard's playing pretty big right now, so it was nice to square one up -- especially against a guy like Lynn. The entire pitching staff of the Cardinals is really good, as everybody knows. We were able to come through and put a few hits together and get just enough runs to win the game."

The defensive woes that have haunted the Cardinals all month reemerged in the sixth to help the Mets pull ahead. Leadoff hitter Eric Young Jr. laid down a bunt in front of the mound, and Lynn's throw to first sailed wide of Matt Adams and rolled into the outfield, allowing the runner to move into scoring position on a two-base error. Young Jr. then came around to score on Daniel Murphy's double into shallow center that skipped under the glove of a diving Jon Jay.

After committing 75 errors during the entire 2013 regular season -- tied with Arizona for the fewest in the National League -- the Cardinals have made 20 errors in their first 23 games.

"I couldn't get a grip on the ball, I threw it, and it cut away from Adams at first base," Lynn said. "That's part of [Young Jr.'s] game as a fast runner, and I knew that at some point he was going to try it on me. I was ready for it, and I just couldn't get the grip I needed to and the ball cut away from me."

After Colon needed only 31 pitches to navigate the first three innings, the Cardinals began to find cracks in the veteran's aggressive approach. Jay dropped a broken-bat single to left in the fourth inning, and Allen Craig led off the fifth with a nine-pitch battle that ended in a strikeout, but set the tone for a 29-pitch inning.

Catcher Tony Cruz plated the Cardinals' only run of the game in the top of the fifth. The little-used backup lined a double that rolled past the sliding Young and to the center-field wall to score Kolten Wong from first base in the top of the fifth inning.

The deficit grew after Matheny employed a double-switch with one out and a runner on second in the seventh, pulling Lynn in favor of left-hander Kevin Siegrist and sending out Mark Ellis to take Wong's spot at second base. Pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson tested Ellis immediately with a sharp line drive that hopped under the new second baseman's glove for an RBI single, and Young Jr. followed with a triple that rolled all the way to the wall in right field. Murphy pushed across the second run of the inning with a single that fell softly in front of left fielder Matt Holliday.

The Cardinals drew a pair of walks off reliever Carlos Torres in the top of the eighth, but lefty Scott Rice got Adams to ground out weakly back to the mound to end the final threat.

"The pitchers are doing their job," said Wong, who finished 2-for-3 at the plate. "They're going six, seven innings most of the time, and they're doing what they have to do. It's tough not only on them, it's tough on us knowing that we're not giving them the runs that they need."

The Cardinals arrived in New York looking for an offensive spark, or at least an opponent whose own struggles at the plate would give them some room for error. They will head home just one game above .500 for the first time since April 12, and look to right the ship ahead of a six-game homestand against fellow NL Central contenders Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.

"The one thing that sticks out to me and sticks out to our guys is we're not playing the kind of baseball we can play with the things we can control," Matheny said. "Solid defense, doing little things right, making plays. We're seeing some grind-it-out at-bats, but not as much as these guys would like to, so when that starts coming around, so will the wins."


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