"We gave the game away," manager Jerry Narron said. "That's basically what we did. There's no other way to put it."
Narron was right. Because for all their struggles in the field, the Reds had plenty of opportunities to take this game from the National League Central champs.
Although left-hander Randy Keisler turned in his fourth brief, laborious start of the season by giving up four runs on nine hits over just 3 1/3 innings, the Reds had this game tied up at 4 midway through the sixth.
They had tied it by taking advantage of a wild and inefficient outing from Mark Mulder, who walked seven batters in his four innings of work, during which the Reds put up three unearned runs.
The walks didn't end when Mulder came out. The Reds loaded the bases against Ray King in the sixth, and Adam Dunn drew ball four to bring the tying run across.
That's about where the Reds' good fortune ended, though.
The Cardinals turned to right-hander Al Reyes with the bases still loaded and none out, and Rich Aurilia, Jason LaRue and Austin Kearns promptly went down swinging.
"Reyes did a great job for them with the bases loaded," Narron said. "That was an outstanding performance."
Narron wished he could have said the same for his defense and pitching staff, but that wasn't the case.
Aurilia's throwing error with two outs in the bottom of the inning put right-hander Luke Hudson in a bad spot. Hudson went on to walk Albert Pujols and allow a two-run double to Reggie Sanders to make it 6-4.
The crippling blow came an inning later.
Reliever Matt Belisle had the second out of the seventh in his hands when Yadier Molina grounded to him, but he tossed the ball out of range for first baseman Dunn, and Molina was aboard. That began a domino effect in which the Cardinals tacked five unearned runs onto their lead with David Eckstein's RBI single and Pujols' game-sealing grand slam.
"I couldn't make adjustments," Belisle said. "I'd like to be back in that situation [facing Pujols]. That's the kind of situation you want to be in. It was a great atmosphere and a big crowd."
It's doubtful the crowd got to the Reds. It's much more likely the calendar did, for they played like a team counting down the hours to Sunday's season finale.
"This is the type of game, no matter what time of year it is, you've got to take it and throw it out," Aurilia said. "We played a terrible game. Our defense, offense and pitching didn't have a good night, and it showed."
Yes, it did. And Narron hopes it doesn't show again in the season's last two days.
"We've got two games left, and we've got to grind it out," he said. "I think these guys will."