Rangers-Cardinals preview

ST. LOUIS -- If there is a consolation to blowing a 3-0 lead with four outs left, it's that the schedule gives the St. Louis Cardinals little time to mourn arguably their worst loss of the season.

Another day game with the surging Texas Rangers awaits Sunday in Busch Stadium, the last game of a five-game homestand in which St. Louis has gone 0-4, hacking up eighth and ninth inning leads to cost it two victories.

Saturday's 4-3 loss is one that can stick with a team if it's not careful. The Cardinals (35-32) did plenty to aid Texas' comeback, contributing a walk, error, hit batter, wild pitch and passed ball.

"Over the course of the season, you go back and remember games that you felt you should have put away and this is one," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "It stings right now, that's for sure."

To avoid a winless homestand, the Cardinals will turn to right-hander Mike Leake (5-4, 4.08), who is 5-1 in his last six decisions. Leake sailed through an 8-3 win on June 12 in Pittsburgh, going seven innings and allowing only two earned runs while fanning six.

Leake has been as advertised since a rough April, ranking among the National League's top control pitchers. He hasn't walked a batter in his last two starts and has eaten up the innings St. Louis projected him to when signing him to a five-year deal in the offseason.

Opposing Leake will be left-hander Martin Perez (6-4, 3.38), who snapped a 14-game winless streak on the road Tuesday night with a 10-6 win in Oakland by pitching seven innings, giving up four runs off nine hits.

Perez will be backed up by a resourceful offense that scored all its runs in the last two innings Saturday. None of those runs came on a hit, as the Rangers scored on a wild pitch, an error, a walk and a sacrifice fly.

Second baseman Rougned Odor brings a six-game hitting streak into the series finale, going 2-for-4 on Saturday with an infield hit that started the winning rally in the ninth.

Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo's return to the lineup from an injury has only added to the depth of Texas' attack. Choo reached base three times Saturday, drawing a bases-loaded walk to tie the game in the ninth.

Choo's patient approach fits well with a Ranger team that clearly isn't afraid to pass the baton down to the next man. Texas owns 21 wins in games it has trailed in this year.

"That's why we're in first place," Choo said. "We never think we're out of a game."

Saturday's win gave the Rangers nine consecutive series wins, a franchise record, and upped their American League West lead over Seattle to 7½ games.

However, second-year manager Jeff Banister isn't exactly breaking his arm patting himself on the back over his team's considerable accomplishments.

"I don't think they're going to give us any badges," Bannister said. "We've got another game tomorrow."

And after a come-from-ahead loss like Saturday, another game might not be the worst thing for the Cardinals.

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