ST. LOUIS -- The Phillies lost Thursday's series finale to the Cardinals, but they may have suffered an even bigger loss in the 12-2 defeat at Busch Stadium.
Starter Roy Oswalt left the game after the second inning with tightness in his lower back. Oswalt is scheduled to have an MRI on Monday and said he doubts that he will make his next start. It was the right-hander's eighth start since returning from the 15-day disabled list with lower back inflammation.
"It's been bothering me for a little while," Oswalt said. "My last start in Seattle, a couple of pitches bit me pretty good and tonight I couldn't really get started too good."
He was noticeably favoring his back in the second but was able to finish the frame after being touched for three runs. Oswalt gave up three straight singles to start the inning and never looked to be in rhythm.
"I really wasn't productive, more heaving the ball than throwing the ball," Oswalt said.
The Cardinals, though, knew something was up and could tell they weren't facing the same Oswalt they were used to seeing from his days as a division rival with the Astros.
"You could tell Oswalt was not himself," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa. "We took advantage of that. But I thought the at-bats were relentless. We kept pushing, pushing -- poked through a few times."
Oswalt gave up a home run to the second batter he faced, a 427-foot blast off the bat of Jon Jay. He was lifted for pinch-hitter Cliff Lee in the third, ending his night abruptly. Oswalt allowed four runs on five hits in two innings, striking out one and throwing 37 pitches.
Since his return from the DL on May 17, Oswalt is 1-5 with a 4.06 ERA. Oswalt's last two outings against the Cardinals have lasted five innings or fewer, and he entered the 2011 season having gone at least six innings in 26 straight starts against the Cards.
"At this point I'm not really helping the team, I'm kind of a liability more than anything," Oswalt said. "I don't think it's doing [any] good to keep going out there and not really doing too much."
Oswalt recalled feeling discomfort in his back after throwing a changeup in the third inning in his last outing at Seattle on June 17, and said he feels pain in his back when he sits, stands, walks and even when he sleeps.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he's noticed something in Oswalt's starts recently and voiced concern about the three-time All-Star's health going forward.
"He's had trouble for quite a while," Manuel said. "I'm concerned about it because it's been quite a while. It bothers him more times than it does others."
Oswalt has been battling back problems since the start of the season, but the issues date back further than that. He had an MRI a year ago that revealed two degenerated disks in his back. Oswalt's pride, though, kept him from shutting it down earlier in the year.
"I don't want to be labeled a quitter," Oswalt said. "Everybody goes through aches and pains, and I thought maybe I could push through it and make it to the All-Star break and maybe get a few more days off, but I didn't quite make it."
Kyle Kendrick relieved Oswalt to start the third and immediately gave up a leadoff double to Matt Holliday, who would eventually come around to score and give the Cards a 5-0 cushion. Kendrick was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh after allowing two runs on five hits in four innings.
Ryan Howard added to his gaudy stats at Busch Stadium with an RBI single in the sixth. It was the 35th RBI for the St. Louis native at Busch Stadium, the most by a visiting player. Other than that, Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter held the Phillies in check.
Carpenter was his surgical best, allowing a lone run on five hits in seven innings. The Cardinals ace fanned seven and kept the Phillies bats silent for most of the night.
The Phillies were able to overcome their lack of big hits in Tuesday's game thanks to a nine-run eighth inning, but they had no such luck this time around against Carpenter and the Cards bullpen, other than Carlos Ruiz's solo homer in the ninth. The Cardinals staged their own big eighth inning, scoring six runs, capped by Lance Berkman's three-run homer off Danys Baez, who allowed all six runs.
Philadelphia remained atop the National League East and leads the Braves by four games.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.