ST. LOUIS -- Even without his All-Star stuff, Jose Fernandez still was able to minimize damage in his wildest big league start. Against a powerhouse team like the Cardinals, it wasn't enough.
Matt Holliday homered, Carlos Beltran stole home and Lance Lynn held the Marlins in check over seven innings, as the Cardinals held on for a 3-2 win on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium.
"[Fernandez] gave us everything that he had," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "It was a tough day, it was hot. He didn't have his great command today. He was really having to grind at times to get through that lineup. At the same time, he kept us in the game and gave us a chance. That's what he's done really almost every time this year."
A road trip that started off promising with two wins at Atlanta concluded in frustration, and Miami heads home having dropped four of six.
The Marlins were last swept in three straight at Philadelphia from June 3-5.
"We talked about it in Atlanta: To beat those guys, we had to make plays," Redmond said. "It's the same way here. We weren't able to make plays."
A day after being named to the National League All-Star team, Fernandez had one of his more challenging starts on a hot afternoon. The 20-year-old was charged with three runs, and he walked a career-high four, while hitting two batters. He also struck out five in six innings.
"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. Holliday got me on an inside pitch. It was a little up."
Lynn scattered seven hits and struck out seven in seven innings, improving to 11-3.
A common theme of the series was the Cardinals being able to capitalize when the Marlins failed to convert. Miami was unable to execute an out on a double steal in the third inning, which enabled Beltran to swipe home, and it was the big run of the day.
And in the eighth inning, the Marlins came up empty in a first-and-third situation with one out when Trevor Rosenthal got out of the jam. The Marlins threatened when Giancarlo Stanton doubled and Logan Morrison singled to center. Unsure if the ball would drop, Stanton hesitated and was held at third.
Rosenthal recovered by striking out Marcell Ozuna and getting pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs on a grounder to second.
As frustrating as the series was, Morrison sees an improving Marlins club.
"They're a really good team, with a really well-balanced lineup," Morrison said. "Good pitching. I think we're just as good as them. Just because we lost three in a row to them doesn't mean [we're not]. We obviously played with them and competed with them. 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 today. 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."
In the first, Holliday homered, giving the Cardinals the early edge. But Miami tied it at 1 in the second inning on Derek Dietrich's double and Adeiny Hechavarria's RBI single.
But in the third inning, Fernandez found himself in a bases-loaded jam, and the Cardinals scored twice and even pulled off the steal of home.
Matt Carpenter was hit by a pitch to open the inning, and Beltran reached on a bunt single. Holliday's walk filled the bases. A sacrifice fly to right by Allen Craig scored Carpenter and put runners on the corners.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny sent Holliday in hopes of staying out of a double play. It almost backfired, but instead worked.
"Trying to get guys in motion to become less of a risk there," Matheny said. "And then Carlos reading the right time when to break home."
Fernandez struck out David Freese, but on the pitch, Holliday broke for second, and the double steal was on. Catcher Jeff Mathis threw down to Dietrich, and Holliday retreated to first.
Dietrich pursued a few steps and then threw to Morrison at first base as Beltran dashed for home. Ignoring Holliday, Morrison turned and tossed home, but the toss was low and not handled cleanly by Mathis. It was ruled a double steal.
"That's a play right there that I guarantee you Dietrich will learn from that mistake," Redmond said. "It's part of where we are at in the development process. We'll make some mistakes and hopefully learn from that as quickly as possible as we can. And hopefully they won't cost us ballgames."
In that situation, the Marlins were looking for Dietrich to chase down Holliday, looking to tag him before Beltran touched home.
"If he would have kept charging, it basically would have ended up being a footrace, and he would have probably ended up at least tagging him before [Beltran] scored," Redmond said.
It's a play that isn't too common, but it is something the rookie second baseman will know how to better handle the next time.
"It's just a tough play," Dietrich said. "A left-handed first baseman. Anytime you get the ball up there, he's going to have to make the perfect throw. Beltran beat it.
"It was just a play you've got to learn from. Run that guy back all the way or just not throw the baseball. It's a big, big run, but not to overthink it, we'll definitely learn from that and not let it happen again and go from there."