ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps searching for any reminder he could that his Reds players have to find some way -- any way -- to beat the Cardinals, manager Dusty Baker tried to paint the archnemesis as normal on Tuesday afternoon.
"You have to realize they put their pants on the same way we do," Baker said.
That might be true, but by Tuesday evening, it was again clear who has been wearing the pants in the Reds-Cardinals relationship. St. Louis claimed a 6-1 victory over Cincinnati to ensure another series win with one game left.
As well as the Cardinals played to earn the win, the Reds certainly made numerous self-inflicted mistakes -- at the plate, on the bases and on defense -- to deserve the loss.
"We've just got to play better baseball," Baker said after the game. "I'm really getting kind of tired of answering these questions every day for everything that happens and everybody. Sometimes a guy has to be held accountable for their actions. They're all big boys. They're all getting paid here. [The Cardinals] are beating us pretty good. We've got to change that."
Since 2003, the Reds are now 3-25-2 in series played at Busch Stadium. In the 2013 season series, the Cardinals have won 10 of the 14 games while outscoring Cincinnati by a 95-49 margin overall.
A Pirates defeat gave the Cardinals a 1 1/2-game National League Central lead over Pittsburgh and a 4 1/2-game edge over the third-place Reds.
"It is frustrating, but they're a good team and things aren't falling for us as of late," Reds starter Mat Latos said of the Cardinals.
Latos pitched better than his line reflected, with four runs and nine hits allowed over six-plus innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out four for only his second loss since the All-Star break. The right-hander also helped himself at the plate with two of the Reds' eight hits.
It was a rocky beginning to Latos' night as the first three batters he faced -- Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday -- all connected with singles. Carpenter scored on Holliday's hit to right field, which brought Baker to the mound for a chat.
Responding well, Latos induced Allen Craig to bounce to the mound into a double play that scored a second run. After a Yadier Molina two-out single, Latos retired 13 of his next 14 hitters.
"Latos did his thing," Baker said. "He threw the ball well. He got out of the first inning with minimum damage. He even helped himself at the plate. He had as good at-bats as anybody."
Cincinnati, however, had oodles of opportunities go astray as at least two runners were left stranded in four of the first five innings.
One night after Joey Votto forgot how many outs there were in the field, another mental error came in the fourth inning on Tuesday and proved more detrimental.
After Jay Bruce blooped a leadoff double between Holliday and shortstop Daniel Descalso near the left-field line, Ryan Ludwick failed to move the runner with a first-pitch groundout to the shortstop. Devin Mesoraco looked at a strike-three pitch before Zack Cozart was intentionally walked with two outs.
Latos followed with a lined single to short center field. After initially being waved around, Bruce was held up by coach Mark Berry at third base. Cozart went to second base and, with his head down, kept running to third and encountered Bruce already at the bag.
"In all sports, they teach you to run with your head up," Baker said.
Cardinals starter Joe Kelly alertly cut off the throw and ran to third base to tag Cozart for the third out. Cozart admitted he was at fault.
"That was a big part of the game," Cozart said. "I looked around and I saw [Berry] waving Jay home, so I started running to third. My focus went to seeing if he was going to cut the ball to [first baseman Allen] Craig. When I got to third, I was surprised Jay was even there."
"Even when you see the guy sending him home, you have to keep your head up. ... It was a bad play."
Shin-Soo Choo cut the deficit in half when he began the Reds' fifth by hitting a 2-2 Kelly pitch to right-center field for a homer -- the 100th of his career. Even after two walks in the inning, there was no further response as the Cardinals' staff combined to retire the final 13 batters in a row.
Latos allowed a run in the sixth on Craig's RBI double and began the seventh with a Jay single. Descalso followed with a bunt to the right of home plate. Mesoraco and Votto converged on the ball, with Votto taking it and firing a throw to Phillips at first base that was not in time for a single.
Chalk it up as another mistake.
"Mesoraco is the captain, and he's going towards first base. He's got to be more assertive on that ball," Baker said. "Joey has to turn and throw. Joey called him on that ball, and Mesoraco let him have it. In that situation, he's got to take that ball because his momentum is going towards first base."
Following a double steal with Manny Parra on the mound, Jay would score two batters later on a sacrifice fly, and St. Louis added two more runs in the eighth against Alfredo Simon.
"There are still some things we have to learn about playing winning baseball," Baker said. "It's the little things in baseball that cost you games. And we're not doing little things."