Dodgers’ late rally falls short this time in loss to Cardinals

It was one of the Dodgers’ best stretches of the season. Yet, it featured a troubling trend that continued Tuesday night.

Yes, the Dodgers won all seven games they played last week.

But in six of those contests, they had to come from behind.

On Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals, a similar script played out again. The Cardinals built a big, early lead. The Dodgers mounted a late-game rally that kept them in it to the ninth.

This time, however, their latest slow start had left them too far adrift. In a 7-6 defeat at Busch Stadium, they’d finally faced a hill too steep to climb.

Down 6-1 at the start of the fifth, the Dodgers scored two runs in the fifth, another in the sixth and one more in the seventh, drawing to within 6-5.

Later in the seventh, they had the bases loaded with no outs, seemingly on the verge of taking the lead for the first time.

But Cardinals reliever Packy Naughton extinguished that threat. The top of the Dodgers’ order came up empty in the eighth. And an insurance run from the Cardinals helped them hold on in the ninth, snapping the Dodgers’ seven-game winning streak and leaving them 56-30 on the season.

“[We] set it up to add some runs there, to tie the game up or to go ahead,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We just didn’t execute.”

Mitch White was the biggest culprit in Tuesday’s loss, suffering his worst start of the season as he continued to replace an injured Andrew Heaney in the Dodgers rotation (Heaney is scheduled to make a minor league rehab start on Saturday).

After retiring the first five batters, White threw an inside sinker to Albert Pujols with two outs in the second. The former Dodger and future Hall of Famer swatted it over the left-field fence.

It was the 685th home run of Pujols’ career, and came a day after the 22-year veteran announced he would participate in next week’s home run derby at Dodger Stadium.

Pujols high-fived St. Louis-native rapper Nelly in the front row after crossing the plate, then obliged a curtain call from the crowd with a tip of his helmet from the dugout.

White’s outing, meanwhile, quickly came off the rails. The Cardinals (48-42) extended their lead on a run-scoring wild pitch and RBI single from Andrew Knizner.

A Freddie Freeman RBI double in the top of the third was answered by a Nolan Gorman solo blast in the bottom half of the inning. Then White, who hadn’t given up more than three runs in his first 12 appearances this year, yielded a couple more RBI singles in the fourth that seemingly put the game out of reach at 6-1.

Dodgers' Trea Turner is congratulated by teammate Mookie Betts after hitting a two-run home run.

Dodgers’ Trea Turner is congratulated by teammate Mookie Betts (50) after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday in St. Louis.

(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Five of the six runs he gave up came with two outs.

The Dodgers, however, began to chip away.

Trea Turner smacked a two-run homer off the left-field foul pole in the fifth. Hanser Alberto doubled and came around to score in the sixth.

In the seventh, Turner, Freeman and Will Smith led off with a catcher’s interference call and two singles, respectively, to plate one run and put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.

With still nobody out, Justin Turner followed with a walk to load the bases.

That’s when Roberts and Cardinals manager Oli Marmol engaged in an in-game chess match.

Roberts sent left-handed Max Muncy to the plate as a pinch-hitter in place of right-handed Trayce Thompson. Marmol responded by removing right-handed reliever Junior Fernández, who had failed to record an out in the inning, in favor of Naughton, a southpaw the Cardinals claimed off waivers from the Angels this spring.

Naughton fell behind Muncy 3-and-1, but then got him to hit a weak popup to center on a sinker over the plate.

Alberto lifted a similarly shallow fly ball to left in the next at-bat.

Cody Bellinger followed with a strikeout to end the inning.

Roberts said after the game he didn’t give much consideration to leaving Thompson at the plate, even if it might have kept the seemingly struggling Fernández on the mound.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better situation,” Roberts said. “We just got to execute right there.”

Instead, the Dodgers’ best chance had come and gone.

In the top of the eighth, Cardinals All-Star reliever Ryan Helsley retired the side in order. In the bottom of the inning, David Price gave up what proved to be a costly insurance run, giving the Cardinals a two-run lead that allowed them to withstand a solo blast from Freeman — giving him his second consecutive four-hit game — in the top of the ninth.

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