ST. LOUIS -- The Marlins left Busch Stadium with the same frustrating feeling three times this weekend.
On Sunday afternoon, their All-Star pitcher, Jose Fernandez, didn’t have his best stuff but did enough to give them a chance.
But once again the Cardinals gave the young Marlins another lesson on how to win close games by pulling out a 3-2 victory to sweep the three-game series.
“We obviously played with them and competed with them,” Logan Morrison said. “It came down to the last inning. If a couple of things go our way, or we make a couple of better plays, we win this game. But that’s why they’re going to be in the playoffs, and that’s why we’re not. They know how to do those things. We’re young. We’re learning. We’ll get there.”
The Cardinals swept the Marlins for the first time since May 5-7, 2006, and for the first time in St. Louis since May 23-25, 2000. The Marlins were swept for the first time since June 3-5 at Philadelphia, which was also the last time they lost three in a row.
The Marlins (32-55) arrived in St. Louis on Friday having won two of three games in Atlanta and eight of their past 10 overall.
But controversial umpiring calls, lack of execution on key plays and not enough timely hitting sent them home with a 2-4 record for the road trip and reminded of how much experience they still need if they hope to one day reach contender status.
“We talked about it in Atlanta, to beat those guys, we had to make plays,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “It’s the same way here. We weren’t able to make plays.”
The Cardinals (53-34) scored the decisive run in the third inning Sunday by executing what went down as a clever double steal by All-Stars Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday.
Just after taking a 2-1 lead on a sacrifice fly by Allen Craig with the bases loaded and no outs, the Cardinals had Holliday on first and Beltran at third. As Fernandez struck out David Freese, Holliday took off for second but stopped halfway, getting caught in a rundown.
Second baseman Derek Dietrich began chasing Holliday back to first but stopped and threw to Morrison. As he did that, Beltran broke for home, forcing an off-balance throw to the plate that catcher Jeff Mathis couldn’t handle as Beltran stole home to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead.
“If he would have kept charging, it basically would have ended up being a foot race, and he would have probably ended up at least tagging him before he scored,” Redmond said. “That’s a play right there that I guarantee you, Dietrich will learn from that mistake. It’s part of where we are at in the development process.”
A day after Fernandez, 20, became the youngest Marlins All-Star ever, he learned how difficult the Cardinals lineup can be to completely hold in check.
Fernandez scattered four hits in six innings but allowed a season-high four walks (one intentional) and hit two batters (also a season-high). Despite struggling with command of his fastballs, Fernandez worked his off-speed pitches well and kept his opponent to less than six hits for the 10th consecutive start.
“I think the stuff was there, they just played better than us,” Fernandez said. “I made some good pitches. It’s not a secret to anybody the Cardinals are one of the best teams in the league. I had a rough inning with the bases loaded, and they got two runs. It wasn’t easy, for sure.”
Giancarlo Stanton struggled against Lance Lynn, striking out three times and looking visibly frustrated after one of them, slamming his bat and helmet to the turf.
With Miami trailing 3-2 in the top of the eighth, Stanton doubled off reliever Trevor Rosenthal — his first extra-base hit since he homered June 29 against the Padres. He was in a 1-for-21 slump before the at-bat.
Stanton advanced to third after the double when Morrison singled but couldn’t score the tying run on the play. Rosenthal struck out Marcell Ozuna, and after hitting Dietrich with a pitch, forced pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs to ground out.
Stanton also made a strong throw to the plate to end the eighth. After catcher Tony Cruz singled to right, Stanton fielded and fired the ball to Mathis a few feet up the third-base line, but early enough for him to adjust and apply the tag on Craig.