ST. LOUIS -- A pair of defensive plays not made on Monday soured Joe Kelly's start and set the script for a streak-snapping, 5-3 loss to the Dodgers, a loss that was compounded by another shaky outing from reliever Victor Marte.
A crowd of 42,806 at Busch Stadium watched the Cardinals' three-game winning streak end, the team's deficit in the National League Central expand to a season-worst six games and the Dodgers' string of consecutive victories over St. Louis extend to eight.
"Good teams capitalize on mistakes," manager Mike Matheny said. "And they did."
Mistakes, even more than missed opportunities, defined the night for St. Louis.
A game that got away late turned early, when the Cardinals' defense extended the second inning long enough for Kelly to make his most crucial error of the night. It came in the form of a 2-2 slider to Luis Cruz and left Kelly frustrated after one of the most anticipated starts of his young career.
A childhood fan of the Angels, Kelly said he especially wanted to perform well against Los Angeles' other team.
"I maybe might have tried too hard on some pitches," Kelly said, "and maybe that got to me."
Perhaps that was the problem against Cruz, who dropped his second career homer just over the left-field wall to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead. Yet, one could argue that Cruz never should have come to bat in that frame.
The second inning opened with an error by Lance Berkman, who couldn't corral a sharp grounder to first. The error was Berkman's second in his last four starts.
"That's a play that Lance is going to tell you he wants to make, needs to make," Matheny said. "And same way with the ball that falls out in the middle of the outfield."
That second reference was to Adam Kennedy's one-out bloop to left that followed. Shortstop Rafael Furcal converged with outfielders Matt Holliday and Jon Jay on the play, and despite having the toughest route to the ball, Furcal attempted to make the catch.
The ball bounced off his glove and to the ground.
Furcal declined to talk with media afterward, though Holliday confirmed that none of the three called for the ball. Neither outfielder felt confident enough to take charge.
"The problem is that I have to dive for it and [Jay] has to dive for it," Holliday said.
A muffed play and a missed catch meant that two could-have-been outs weren't.
Five pitches later, Cruz homered on a slider that Kelly termed "terrible."
Kelly has allowed five home runs in his eight Major League starts. Those long balls have accounted for 12 of the 19 runs he has allowed.
"It just stinks because I've been giving up homers in my past few starts, and they're not solo shots," he said. "They come up and bite me in the butt."
The Dodgers' lead was padded in the seventh, an inning that has been problematic for the Cardinals for weeks. Fernando Salas and Barret Browning each recorded an out, but also each allowed a single. With the right-handed-hitting Mark Ellis due up and two out, Matheny turned to Marte to finish the inning.
Marte did, but not until after allowing a two-run double. That pushed Los Angeles' advantage to four and proved particularly costly when Carlos Beltran belted a two-run homer in the eighth.
"He's had some rough outings lately," Matheny said of Marte. "We've used him a lot this season in those situations to come in and get one, maybe two outs. We just have to figure out how to get him back to where he was early in the season."
Marte said that locating his pitches inside has been the biggest issue over this troublesome two-month stretch. Not only has his ERA ballooned from 2.57 to 4.46 since May 13, but eight of the last 20 runners Marte has inherited have scored.
"I can be good," Marte said. "I'm working hard. I'll come back."
Kelly (1-3) dropped his third straight decision despite making his sixth consecutive six-inning start. He allowed only two other hits outside of the second, though he took some himself.
Head athletic trainer Greg Hauck was out of the dugout only nine pitches into the night, after a chopper nicked the ring finger on Kelly's pitching hand on an attempted barehanded stop in the first.
"It just felt like I got stung by a bee there," Kelly said. "They were numb for a bit."
He then tumbled to the ground while lunging out an infield single in the fifth. Hauck again raced onto the field. Kelly again remained in the game.
That infield hit -- Kelly's second of the year -- ended an at-bat in which he nearly took Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley deep. In Kelly's previous plate appearance, he worked a 10-pitch at-bat.
Those were two of the more eventful at-bats for the Cardinals, who finished 2-for-15 with runners on base. Berkman's two-out, RBI single had given the Cardinals a first-inning lead. The club didn't score again until the eighth.
Billingsley allowed a baserunner in all six of his innings, but stranded six and erased another on a double play.
"The second inning was our shutdown inning," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We got three and then Chad throws a zero there and it kept the momentum in our dugout all the way through."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.