ST. LOUIS -- Junichi Tazawa was on the verge of rolling through the bottom of the eighth inning on Tuesday night and handing the ball to closer Koji Uehara in what could have been a nice start to a three-city road trip for the Red Sox.
But after retiring the first two batters he faced, Tazawa gave up three straight hits, the last of them a go-ahead RBI single by Jon Jay.
That proved to be the difference, as the Cardinals downed the Red Sox, 3-2, in the first meeting between the tradition-laden franchises since Game 6 of last year's World Series.
"It seemed like Junichi had the eighth inning well in hand, two outs, two strikes, nobody on base and three base hits consecutively," said manager John Farrell. "That's the difference in tonight's game."
This couldn't exactly be classified as a World Series rematch, not with Boston dealing numerous key members from the 2013 squad within the last week.
As John Lackey watched the game from the Cardinals' dugout, the Red Sox once again had a young pitcher on the mound -- this time righty Rubby De La Rosa. De La Rosa turned in a strong effort, holding the Cardinals to six hits and a run over six innings. He walked three and struck out three.
"I feel good," said De La Rosa. "I feel everything worked. I had a couple of walks. I missed a couple of pitches."
The man who scored the winning run for the Cardinals? None other than A.J. Pierzynski, whom the Red Sox designated for assignment on July 9.
Down, 0-2, against Tazawa, Pierzynski sparked the winning rally with a lined single to left.
"The pitch to A.J., the split, was not too bad of a pitch, but it wasn't low enough. I think I should have bounced it," said Tazawa.
Up next was Oscar Taveras, who came through with a single to center, and Pierzynski roared into third.
Jay then belted a 1-0, 94-mph heater to plate Pierzynski.
"I know, having caught Taz all year, he's got really good stuff," Pierzynski said. "I was just hoping he'd make a mistake. He threw me three mistakes the first three pitches, and the one good pitch he had was the one I hit, which was pretty funny. I haven't seen him give up three hits in a row. … I don't think he's done that all year, especially with two outs."
For the rebuilt Red Sox, one encouraging sign was the 3-for-4 night -- including a triple -- from Yoenis Cespedes.
"Obviously, we know about his power," said third baseman Will Middlebrooks. "At the same time, he's a good hitter and a good defender, and so far he's been a great teammate. He's going to add a lot to our lineup and our team in general."
It was Cespedes who helped put the Red Sox in front in the seventh, when he led off with a single up the middle.
Daniel Nava lofted a single to left, and the Red Sox had two on with none out. Xander Bogaerts sacrificed the runners to second and third with a bunt. Instead of facing Christian Vazquez, the Cardinals had starter Lance Lynn intentionally walk him.
They instead challenged Middlebrooks, and it nearly worked, as Middlebrooks tapped one back to the box. But Lynn bobbled it, erasing the golden opportunity he had for an out at the plate. Instead his only play was to first, and the Red Sox had a one-run lead.
"Well, you know, he's looking for a pitch on the plate, and if he squares it up, we've got a different situation," said Farrell. "But a sinker keeps a ball in the middle of the infield. Still, we're looking for a pitch that he can handle and drive, and unfortunately, that didn't happen in that case."
With two outs, Farrell called on Mike Napoli, who didn't get the start on a night David Ortiz started at first.
Napoli fumed when home-plate umpire Mark Ripperger rung him up on a called third strike.
"It looked like Nap takes what looks like a ball off the plate for strike three," said Farrell.
St. Louis came right back in the bottom of the seventh, as an RBI single by Kolten Wong against Tommy Layne tied it.
Yet again the Red Sox created opportunities for themselves but couldn't cash in.
"Baseball's tough sometimes," said Middlebrooks. "We had a few balls hit hard today that were right at people. Look at [Bogaerts'] ball in the last inning. That ball is torched. If it's right at somebody, that's the way it goes."