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Quick Hits: Jack Flaherty’s strong start falls apart late as Cardinals lose 6-3 to Diamondbacks

Cardinals pitchers Jack Flaherty and Andrew Pallante combined to give up a five-run seventh inning as the Arizona Diamondbacks broke open what had been a tie game as the Cardinals lost their seventh of 11 home games this season.

Flaherty gave up the first run of the inning then exited the game with two men on base. Pallante later gave up a grand slam to Pavin Smith in a 6-3 loss to the Diamondbacks in the opening game of a three-game series in front of an announced crowd of 36,405 on Monday night at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals (7-10) have fallen to 2-3 on their current homestand with two games remaining.

Flaherty (1-2) allowed four runs on four hits, including one home run, and three walks in six innings.

Cardinals rookie Alec Burleson hit his first home run of the season, and Willson Contreras went two for four with two doubles and an RBI.

The Cardinals entered the night having posted a .620 winning percentage against the Diamondbacks, the highest in majors among National League and common interleague opponents.

Monday night’s contest also marked the first of 16 straight games for the Cardinals against either NL West or AL West opponents.

Flaherty’s outing goes sideways

The Diamondbacks jumped on Flaherty via a leadoff double on the second pitch of the game, hit by Josh Rojas to center field, followed by an RBI single up the middle by Ketel Marte on a first-pitch slider.

Flaherty then held the Diamondbacks scoreless for the next five innings.

The Cardinals turned a double play in each of the first two innings to increase their major-league leading total to 22. Flaherty also entered the night leading the NL in double plays induced, with six, before he added two to his total against the Diamondbacks.

Flaherty made it through the first three innings on an efficient 41 pitches. He retired 10 in a row from the final batter of the second inning through the end of the fifth inning. He recorded three of his four strikeouts in that stretch.

The Diamondback chased Flaherty from the game in the top of the seventh before he recorded an out. He gave up a leadoff homer to Marte, a double by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and a walk to Christian Walker before the game was turned over to the bullpen.

The two men he left on base scored on Smith’s grand slam given up by Pallante, who retired the next three batters in a row.

Contreras has two-way impact

With Paul Goldschmidt getting a day off, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol moved Contreras into the No. 3 spot in the batting order and in front of Nolan Arenado. Aside from Yadier Molina, the Cardinals hadn’t had a starting catcher bat third since Todd Ziele did so on April 13, 1990. Molina batted third 16 times.

Contreras had a busy day both behind the plate and in the batter’s box. He went two for four with an RBI, a stolen base and two doubles. He also threw out an runner attempting to steal a base.

Contreras has gotten off to a slow start, offensively, in his first season with the Cardinals after joining the club as a free agent this winter. He entered the day batting .200 with four RBIs in 15 games this season.

In his previous two starts, he’d gone three for eight with a run scored, a double and two RBIs.

Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly threw 85 pitches in his six innings against the Cardinals, and he threw 25 pitches to Contreras in three at-bats — including a nine-pitch at-bat that ended with a double to right field in the fourth inning as well as a 10-pitch at-bat that yielded an RBI double off the base of the center field wall to tie the score 1-1 in the sixth inning.

Contreras fouled off 11 pitches total in the two at-bats leading up to the doubles.

Contreras’ throwing out of Alek Thomas on a steal attempt of second base in the sixth inning added to his major-league leading total of five runners caught stealing (five of nine), and it marked just the second time a Diamondbacks runner had been thrown out trying to steal this season.

Contreras is tied with Philadelphia catcher J.T. Realmuto for the most runners caught stealing this season.

With two outs in the bottom half of the inning, he belted a 2-2 slider from Kelly for the game-tying double on a night when the Cardinals’ offense struggled against Kelly.

Kelly finally catches a break

Kelly made his third career start at Busch Stadium and made himself right at home.

The right-hander had gone winless in his first three starts despite having an earned-run average of 2.93. The Diamondbacks scored a total of five runs in his previous three starts this season.

However, Kelly did his best to take run support out of the equation by holding the Cardinals scoreless through the first 5? innings before Contreras’ two-out double in the sixth.

Kelly held the Cardinals to five hits, didn’t walk a batter and gave up his lone run with two outs in his final inning on the mound. Other than the two doubles by Contreras, Kelly did not give up an extra-base hit. He struck out three and didn’t walk a batter.

He was the winning pitcher, improving his record this year to 1-2.

Cardinals infielder Nolan Arenado throws to first base in the first inning of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks  on Monday, April 17, 2023,at Busch Stadium.

Cardinals infielder Nolan Arenado throws to first base in the first inning of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks  on Monday, April 17, 2023,at Busch Stadium.

Diamondbacks infielder Josh Rojas scores as Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras awaits a late throw in the first inning of a game on Monday, April 17, 2023, at Busch Stadium.

Diamondbacks infielder Josh Rojas scores as Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras awaits a late throw in the first inning of a game on Monday, April 17, 2023, at Busch Stadium.

The Diamondbacks' Pavin Smith, left, rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam off Cardinals reliever Andre Pallante, right, during the seventh inning on Monday, April 17, 2023, in St. Louis.

The Diamondbacks’ Pavin Smith, left, rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam off Cardinals reliever Andre Pallante, right, during the seventh inning on Monday, April 17, 2023, in St. Louis.

Lynn Worthy

@LWorthySports on Twitter

lworthy@post-dispatch.com

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