ST. LOUIS | The Royals deserve a day off to think about this one. Call it penance.
They never trailed Wednesday night until the end, when Ryan Ludwick opened the 14th inning with a homer that lifted the St. Louis Cardinals to a 7-6 victory at Busch Stadium.
It was a crushing loss.
Royals ace Gil Meche failed to hold leads of 3-0 and 4-1 before exiting in the fifth. The bullpen then squandered a 6-4 lead as veteran closer Octavio Dotel blew his first save opportunity since returning from the disabled list.
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And the Royals missed a chance to win the I-70 Series for the first time since 2001.
“We had an awful approach offensively all night long,” manager Buddy Bell lamented. “These are the big leagues, and you’ve got to be aggressive up there. I’m not sure what we were doing.”
The Royals did finish with 13 hits, including four by Alex Gordon and three by David DeJesus. They also benefited from four St. Louis errors in building their lead.
But the Cardinals kept coming. They knocked out Meche and mounted threats against the Royals’ bullpen in nearly every inning before finally pulling even on Albert Pujols’ RBI double in the ninth against Dotel.
The Cardinals finished with 17 hits, including five by Aaron Miles, but they were just three for 17 with runners in scoring position.
“They had chances,” Gordon said, “and we kept holding them off. We had chances, and they did the same to us.”
The Royals’ best chance in extra innings came in their 14th when DeJesus yanked a one-out triple past first against struggling Kip Wells, a starter whose slot in the rotation remains in jeopardy because of season-long ineffectiveness.
Wells was only in the game because both teams used eight pitchers in exhausting their bullpens. But he kept DeJesus at third by retiring pinch-hitter Shane Costa on a weak grounder to second with the infield in before striking out John Buck.
Wells, 3-11, got the victory when Ludwick crushed a 2-2 offering from De La Rosa, 4-8, in the bottom of the inning. That ended the game at 12:31 a.m. Thursday _ after 5 hours, 21 minutes.
The Royals had turned to De La Rosa, their scheduled starter for Friday’s game in Milwaukee, after using every reliever except Neal Musser, who pitched 3 1/3 innings in Tuesday’s loss.
De La Rosa declined comment afterward, but there wasn’t much to say.
“He left it over the plate,” Buck said, “and you saw what happened.”
Bell said the Royals would decide Thursday whether to start De La Rosa in the series opener against the Brewers.
“He only threw five pitches,” Bell said, “but we’ll have to talk about it.”
The loss forced the Royals to settle for a 3-3 split in the I-70 Series, which they haven’t won since 2001. It also ended their quest to win four straight series for the first time since June 2003.
St. Louis starter Todd Wellemeyer, claimed from the Royals on May 15, struggled through a three-run first but yielded just one additional run in his five innings. He departed for a pinch-hitter in the fifth and gained a no-decision when Meche blew a 4-1 lead.
The Cardinals trailed 6-5 when Miles opened the ninth with a single through the left side against Dotel. Pujols then tied the game by slicing an RBI double into the right-field corner.
St. Louis loaded the bases with one out, but Joel Peralta sent the game to extra innings by striking out Ludwick and Kelly Stinnett.
Peralta also worked a scoreless 10th inning before David Riske took over in the 11th and pitched three scoreless innings. Riske worked out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the 12th.