DENVER -- Whether he was soaring last September or searching for most of this season, Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma's expression rarely changed, his cadence or comments never giving away whether he was upbeat or downtrodden. His manager remarked several times how his teammates couldn't even tell with even-keeled Kozma.
There was no mistaking how he felt Thursday.
Dared by the Colorado Rockies to beat them in the 15th inning, Kozma sought something, anything that would lift him and his team, and instead found the only thing that wouldn't. With the bases loaded, Kozma grounded into an inning-ending double play. In the bottom of the same inning, Rockies outfielder Corey Dickerson lined a walk-off triple to the right-field wall and D.J. LeMahieu scored around an attempted tag for a 7-6 victory at Coors Field.
When Kozma failed to outrun the double play and bring home the go-ahead run, his stoic veneer cracked. He slammed his batting helmet into the ground -- an outburst he hasn't had since the minors.
"Game on the line. Game that lasted (five) hours. Everybody is feeling something, especially at that point," Kozma said. "I was looking for something that I could get up and drive. I got something to hit and didn't do anything with it."
The 5-hour, nine-minute loss cut the Cardinals' lead in the National League Central division to one game. Second-place Pittsburgh (88-65) won at home on the eve of facing third-place Cincinnati (87-66) for the first of six games in the season's final nine. The Cardinals (89-63) split the four-game series with the Rockies and will open their final road series of the regular season tonight against Milwaukee.
The Cardinals rallied from an early four-run deficit to take the lead in the eighth and again in the ninth inning. Each time their stalwart relievers -- Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica, in their usual innings -- faltered. Mujica lost a one-run lead on the second pitch he threw. A day after Mujica struck him out with the bases loaded to save Wednesday's game, retiring first baseman Todd Helton launched a game-tying, ninth-inning homer. In September, Mujica, slowed earlier by shoulder soreness, has as many blown saves (two) as saves (two) to go with a 7.11 ERA.
Three times in the first nine innings the game was tied. The Cardinals and Rockies used 10 pitchers each and combined to throw 471 pitches in the second-longest game ever at Coors.
"You look on the other side and that's got to be a tough game for them," Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "To play that many innings and lose -- just being a baseball fan you want to see if that affects them down the stretch."
"A loss this time of year you're never going to find too much to be positive about," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We had our chances."
The best came in the 15th.
After Matt Holliday's two-out, RBI single put the Cardinals ahead 6-5 in the top of the ninth inning the Cardinals had only one baserunner until the 15th inning. Rockies reliever Rob Scahill walked Holliday with one out in the 15th to invite a rally. Carlos Beltran followed with a single that put Holliday, the go-ahead run, at third base. The Rockies opted to walk Yadier Molina to load the bases and face Kozma.
The Cardinals' struggling shortstop entered the game as a pinch-runner for David Freese. Freese had just put the Cardinals ahead 5-4 in the eighth with a double that Dickerson couldn't catch as his glove hit the wall. Kozma remained in the game at shortstop and in the lineup, batting sixth.
Kozma said the "first thing that popped in my head" as he walked to the on-deck circle was that the Rockies would choose his .216 average over the .315-hitting Molina. Kozma had hit into only five double plays this season and despite one of the lowest overall averages in the majors from a regular he had hit .324 with runners in scoring position. He knew Scahill (1-0) from the minors and thought he could lift a pitch to the outfield. He skipped it to shortstop.
"That's why you saw the emotion," Matheny said. "That's the situation that he wanted to be in to pick us up. We had all the faith in the world that he was going to get it done, just like we hope he had in himself. We're going to need him right. We're going to need him confident, believing in himself."
Kozma hit .333 last September and helped hoist the Cardinals into the postseason. This autumn he has fallen out of a job; Daniel Descalso started all four games at shortstop in Denver. Although rosters are expanded, the Cardinals' bench has been diluted by such changes. Matt Adams (elbow irritation) was limited Wednesday, but had the ninth-inning single that helped lead to a brief lead Thursday. Allen Craig (foot sprain) isn't with the club. By the end of the ninth inning, the Cardinals had already replaced Freese and Adams. The Cardinals used 23 of the 33 players on the roster Thursday, and just as the Rockies couldn't deter the Cardinals from a key intentional walk Wednesday night the Cardinals had no enforcer left when Molina walked Thursday.
Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, who went hitless in six at-bats, drew a walk from Rockies starter Roy Oswalt in the first inning. He was then picked off first when Helton did something he hadn't done successfully in 17 seasons -- faked a throw back to the mound and then tagged the runner out when he stepped off the base. Tulowitzki's two-run homer gave the Rockies a 4-0 lead on Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha. The righty, in his first start at Coors, tiptoed around 12 hits allowed to hold the Rockies to only four runs.
Neither starter completed the fifth inning.
The Cardinals turned two consecutive walks to start the fourth inning into a three-run jag against Oswalt, and Holliday tied the game, 4-4, with a two-out RBI single in the fifth inning that chased Oswalt. In their next 29 at-bats, the Cardinals had nine strikeouts and seven hits, three from players who weren't the game after the ninth.
"We control our own fate here," Kozma said of a one-game lead. "Losing games like this hurts a little, but we've still got to play. If we play the way we have been, we'll be OK."
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