PHILADELPHIA -- The Cardinals prepared to depart Citizens Bank Park late Sunday afternoon knowing this weekend had a chance to end much differently.
That was never more true than following the finale against the Phillies in which they had two fewer errors and seven more hits but trailed in the one statistic that matters most: runs. Of more concern, in a game they overcame an early two-run deficit, an usually steady bullpen took a pair of losses on a weekend that a series win, if not sweep was well within their reach.
For the second time in three games, reliever Barret Browning took the loss, this one an 8-7, 11-inning defeat to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday. The loss dropped the Cardinals 2 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh and Atlanta in the National League Wild Card race.
"That's uncharacteristic of our bullpen lately," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We gave up a three-run lead, and it was a matter of who was going to get the big hit and we just couldn't get it."
Browning, in his second inning of work, surrendered a leadoff double into left by Erik Kratz. Kratz, who tied the game with a three-run home run in the eighth, then took off for third on a ground ball off the bat of Jimmy Rollins to shortstop Rafael Furcal. Furcal easily got Kratz at third for the first out of the inning.
Rollins reached second on a sharp groundout to first by Brian Schneider. Juan Pierre stepped in, and after Rollins stole third, Pierre hit a ground ball into the hole between short and third. Pierre beat Furcal's throw to first to end the game.
"Against the lefty, I just went old-school whiffle on him," Pierre said. "I didn't feel good all day, but one thing you can do every day is fight. I think guys were saying [Furcal] slipped a little bit and couldn't get that much on the throw. He got a lot on it, but not enough."
The Phillies' final-inning heroics would not have happened had the Cardinals' bullpen been able to hold a three-run lead in the eighth.
Reliever Marc Rzepczynski entered the game and promptly walked Chase Utley and Ryan Howard before he was lifted in favor of Mitchell Boggs. Boggs struck out Domonic Brown and got a flyout from John Mayberry Jr. But his first offering to Kratz landed in the flower bed atop the left-field wall, and the game was tied at 7.
"[Boggs] was real close to getting out of that," Matheny said. "A pitch in the wrong location in a game like this will cost you."
"[One of the reasons I like him] is he's definitely capable of hitting a homer," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of Kratz, who has five home runs and 11-of-15 hits have gone for extra bases. "He's big and strong, and if he makes contact and gets the fat part of the bat on the ball, he can definitely hurt you.
Moments earlier, the Cardinals appeared to be in the driver's seat as catcher Tony Cruz -- in for Yadier Molina, who got the day off -- hit a bloop single into left center off Phillies reliever Michael Schwimer to lead off the eighth. After a sacrifice bunt, pinch-hitter David Freese walked. Jon Jay doubled into left-center, and he scampered to third on the throw with one out and the Cardinals up, 6-4. Matt Carpenter followed with his fourth hit of the game to give the Cards a 7-4 lead.
The Cardinals got a run off Phillies starter Vance Worley in the first, but walked away feeling they could have done more damage.
After Jay worked a leadoff walk, Carpenter doubled into right-center to score Jay all the way from first. Worley, whose best inning by far has been the first -- he entered the game with a 1.89 ERA in 19 first innings -- settled in and got a pair of popouts and a groundout to end the frame.
The Phillies responded quickly as Cardinals starter Lance Lynn hit Pierre to lead off the bottom of the first. Third baseman Kevin Frandsen follow with a bunt single and Chase Utley tripled into left-center. On the play, Utley took off for third when Furcal bluffed a throw home. Furcal's throw to third was up the line, and Carpenter had to reach to apply the tage to Utley, who, according to replays, was out but ruled safe. Utley then scored on a single through the right side that gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead.
"There's no good reason for it," Matheny said. "[Lynn's] stuff looks good. He looks good, but for whatever reason, the first inning has given him trouble."
Trouble is an understatement.
In 22 starts leading into this game, 17 of which he made it into the sixth inning, the opening frame is by far his worst. Lynn had allowed 18 runs and had a 7.36 ERA in the first entering his start Sunday. That number actually went up after three earned runs to an ERA of 8.22. By comparison, his next worst inning is the second, in which he has a 3.91 ERA, with 10 earned runs allowed.
"I have to start getting people out in the first inning," said Lynn, who has a 2.89 ERA this year not including the first inning, and a 3.65 ERA overall. "Today I hit the first guy, the second guy got a bunt and faced their two best hitters after that. I put myself in a jam and trouble.
"You always want to win a series, and today I didn't help us out."
Mike Radano is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.