NEW YORK -- As the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, the Cardinals' needs aren't changing. But they did crystallize just a little bit more on Wednesday night.
A club that has searched for dependable relief from both sides once again saw that issue exposed in a 6-5 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. Starter Kyle McClellan let a four-run lead get away before Cards relievers saw a 5-4 advantage turn into a tie game and eventually a defeat.
The final, telling blow was Angel Pagan's solo, walk-off home run against Fernando Salas, but it was far from the only time the Cardinals could not get an out they badly needed. A club that is searching for any sort of pitching upgrade it can get, be it starting, left-handed relief or right-handed relief, saw those needs magnified one more time on Wednesday.
"We had plenty of chances to win the game today," said catcher Gerald Laird, who looked like the hero in the middle of the eighth. "We just didn't get it done."
Salas had survived 1 1/3 innings without incident, but Pagan jumped a first-pitch fastball for the first walk-off home run of his Major League career. The Cardinals let leads of 4-0 and 5-4 get away before losing for the fourth time in five games since the All-Star break. It was the Cardinals' ninth walk-off loss this year and fourth via home run.
New York finished off the win in the 10th, of course, but the turning point came two innings earlier. Josh Thole's two-out single against Jason Motte tied the game after Motte had been brought in specifically to face the left-handed-swinging catcher.
Lance Lynn had worked 1 2/3 strong innings, but after 32 pitches the Cards lifted him with Thole at the plate and a runner on third. Rather than going to a left-hander or to Salas, manager Tony La Russa summoned Motte, who has been far more effective against right-handers both this year and throughout his career.
"It looked to me like Lynn's stuff had started changing," La Russa said. "I thought a fresh arm like Motte could have a better chance to tie up Thole. But it didn't work out."
La Russa noted that if he had gone to either of his left-handed pitchers, the Mets would have countered with Ronny Paulino or Scott Hairston, and he said he preferred the Motte-Thole matchup. He said he had no desire to use Salas in the eighth.
On a 1-0 count, Motte left a fastball up and over the plate. Thole poked it through the infield for a base hit to left, tying the game and putting the Mets in position to win two innings later.
"It was supposed to be down and away," Motte said. "I threw a two-seamer, sinker, down and away and it just didn't really do anything. Stayed up and just kind of sat there, up out over. Didn't really get down."
The late tumble spoiled what would have been a needed win for the Cards. St. Louis scored three of its five runs on plays other than base hits to the outfield, having taken the lead in the top of the eighth on Gerald Laird's two-out RBI bunt single. Matt Holliday's first-inning sacrifice fly gave the Redbirds an early lead, and Jon Jay's grounder with two on in the third delivered the second Cards tally. Holliday and Lance Berkman both added RBI base hits in a three-run third inning that appeared to put the visitors in control.
It wasn't that cut-and-dried, though. Mets starter R.A. Dickey, shaky early, came on stronger as the game went on. Meanwhile, McClellan let the four-run read slip away as he made it four straight starts of allowing at least four runs.
McClellan most regretted the hit that tied the game, a two-run homer by Carlos Beltran. With a runner on first and two outs in the fifth, he missed his location with a 3-2 fastball, and Beltran tattooed it to deep right field. He, Laird and La Russa all acknowledged after the game that the better move might well have been to pitch around the switch-hitting Cardinal-killer.
"I was in between, do I want to go ahead and walk him or do I want to try to get him here? I made the wrong choice," McClellan said.
After McClellan left, Lynn was strong for five outs. He worked around a leadoff error in the bottom of the eighth and nearly escaped after a Daniel Descalso error that led off the inning -- on a ball that could well have been a hit. Descalso ranged far to his right to snare Pagan's roller up the middle, but his throw took Albert Pujols off the bag.
That set up the tying run, and two innings later Pagan ended the game.
"It was a perfect pitch," Pagan said. "It wasn't up, it was just right down Broadway, like they say."
The loss kept the Cardinals 1 1/2 games behind Pirates and Brewers, who are tied for first place in the National League Central. Cincinnati is in fourth place, four games out.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.