ST. LOUIS -- During pregame festivities at Busch Stadium on Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals brought a bunch of little kids on the field and they got to stand next to the ballplayers during the National Anthem.
The moment overwhelmed one little kid and he lost his lunch right in front of shortstop, forcing the grounds crew to work quickly to clean up the mess.
The unfortunate pregame episode turned out to be a fitting commentary on the Phillies' weekend in St. Louis. They came to town looking to make some hay against a Cardinals team that had lost seven in a row, but were swept in a series for the sixth time this season, losing Sunday's finale, 6-5 (see Instant Replay).
The Phillies rallied for two runs in the ninth inning and had two runners on base before wobbly Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh got Tommy Joseph on a fly ball to end the game.
The loss dropped the Phillies to 21-40 on the season, the worst mark in the majors.
Their most recent losing streak stands at five and they have scored just nine runs over that span.
But it wasn't so much the offense that gave manager Pete Mackanin an upset tummy Sunday.
It was the down-the-middle, 3-1 fastball that starting pitcher Aaron Nola threw to Dexter Fowler with two outs, two men on base and the Phillies up by two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
You could say Mackanin wanted to do what that little kid did pregame after Fowler turned on the 92-mph pitch and clubbed it for a game-changing three-run homer.
"Nola made a bad pitch to Fowler," Mackanin said. "I didn't like the pitch he chose to throw. He made a mistake and it cost him."
Mackanin continued, zeroing in on Nola's lack of pitch efficiency.
"In five innings, 53 strikes, 40 balls. Unacceptable. Too many pitches," the manager said. "I don't know how many three-ball counts he had, but he seemed like he was behind every hitter he faced."
The irony is Nola had pitched one of the best games of his career in his previous start, tossing eight innings of one-run ball in a victory at Atlanta.
Nola could not build on that outing Sunday.
He is 3-4 with a 4.40 ERA in eight starts this season.
"Overall, I need to get ahead in the count better," Nola said. "I was behind a lot. I got a lot of guys three balls today and ran my pitch count up and pitched behind in the count a lot."
Nola took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning. He allowed a leadoff double and a one-out walk. With two outs, he ran the count to 3-1 against the lefty-hitting Fowler.
Catcher Andrew Knapp called for a fastball in. Nola threw the fastball down the middle and Fowler hit it down the right-field line for a homer.
"Anytime you're in a hitter's count and you're going to come inside to a hitter who has some power, you're taking a big chance," Mackanin said. "To make a pitch on the inside part of the plate is really tough. You're taking a chance to walk him when you come inside because when you come inside you have to make a perfect pitch and the percentage of making a perfect pitch is lower. If it's out over the plate, it gets hit like it did. If it's inside, it's a walk. So that's why I don't like the pitch.
"Stay away (outer part of the plate) from him. I'd rather see him stay away from him."
Mackanin was asked who he faulted for the pitch call, the pitcher or the rookie catcher.
"Both of them," he said. "But it's the pitcher's ball. The pitcher has the ball. It's a pitch that I didn't care for."
Ultimately, Nola did not care for the pitch, either. Well, at least the results of the pitch. He said he and Knapp were in agreement to go at Fowler with an inside fastball.
"I felt comfortable going in there," Nola said. "I just didn't get it in enough. I didn't execute the pitch. I wanted to attack. You never want to load the bases, but he hit a home run."
Nola said he would learn from the mistake.
"Yeah, for sure," he said. "I think I could have went away, too."
While Nola took the brunt of the manager's frustration, the bullpen did not exactly shine. Joaquin Benoit gave up three hits and two runs in the sixth and Hector Neris allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the eighth as the Cardinals got just far enough ahead that those two runs the Phillies scored in the ninth were just window dressing on a weekend in St. Louis that was so bad it made you want to …