DENVER -- Nearly five hours and several comebacks into the game, the Cardinals finally had a chance. When Pete Kozma walked into the on-deck circle, he knew the Rockies would intentionally walk Yadier Molina, loading the bases and setting up perfectly as a signature moment for the young hitter.
But Kozma played perfectly into the Rockies' plan, hitting into a double play in the top of the 15th inning that kept the game knotted at 6.
"It died about belt high," Kozma said of the pitch from Rob Scahill. "It was a good pitch to hit, didn't do anything with it."
Colorado center fielder Corey Dickerson smacked a walk-off triple off Fernando Salas (0-3) for the winning run in the bottom of that inning. That hit brought a long-awaited end to 6 1/2 scoreless innings and left the Cardinals with a 7-6 loss at Coors Field Thursday evening. The loss dropped St. Louis' lead in the National League Central to a game over the Pirates, who beat the Padres, and two over the idle Reds.
Before the game could even climb into extras, former teammates Matt Holliday and Todd Helton exchanged runs in the ninth. Holliday ripped a single through the infield to score pinch-runner Kolten Wong in the top of the ninth. Matt Adams, who pinch-hit despite right elbow soreness, placed the winning runner on base with a single to right.
But Helton, in what may be one of the last iconic moments of his 17-year career, immediately answered with a solo shot into the Rockies bullpen off St. Louis closer Edward Mujica to end the Cardinals' brief lead.
"He's our guy," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Mujica.
"You look on the other side, that's got to be a tough game for them, to play that many innings and lose," Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "Just being a baseball fan, you want to see if that affects them in the stretch run."
For the first three games of the series, Cardinals starters had turned the pitching nightmares that haunt Coors Field and permeate through big league clubhouse into nothing more than pure myth. But rookie Michael Wacha couldn't match his counterparts Thursday afternoon.
Wacha entered 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two road starts but stumbled in his debut at the hitter-friendly park, allowing 12 hits and four runs over 4 2/3 innings. He struck out seven and said the altitude didn't have a dramatic effect on his pitches.
Wacha felt he simply left too many balls hanging up in the zone, a common issue for visiting pitchers when throwing breaking balls.
"I feel like it all starts with the starting pitcher," Wacha said. "I just wasn't able to get guys out there for awhile and gave up entirely too many hits, putting our team not in a very good position.
"But those guys fought back and really made it a game. Easily, we could've just rolled over, we were down 4-0 there."
After fighting back to tie the game at 4, Cardinals third baseman David Freese in the eighth sent a high fly ball deep into right-center field. The center fielder, Dickerson, reeled the ball in with a jumping grab, but it jarred loose as he slammed into the fence, plating Holliday for the go-ahead run.
The Rockies responded quickly in the bottom of the inning, Charlie Blackmon legging out a double and crossing for the tying run when Dickerson shot a triple over center fielder Jon Jay's head.
Dormant through the first three innings, the Cardinals offense awoke with a three-run fourth. Rockies starter Roy Oswalt walked the first two batters and Carlos Beltran's bloop single to center scored their first run. Molina's sacrifice fly added St. Louis' second run and catcher Tony Cruz cut Colorado's lead to one with a double off the top of the left-field wall.
Holliday -- the former Rockie who has terrorized his former team since being traded to the A's and eventually landing with the Cardinals -- knotted things at 4 with a two-out RBI single in the fifth that bounced through the infield and rolled just past the diving glove of second baseman Jonathan Herrera.
"There were a lot of positives to come out of it," Matheny said. "A loss this time of year, you can never find too much to be positive about, but we were down four runs at one point in that game and we had chances."
Oswalt came a strike away from escaping the fifth with a one-run lead, but was yanked after Holliday's single. He allowed four runs on just five hits in 4 2/3 innings, four walks inflating his final line.
Colorado batted around in the second, Helton hitting a signature double down the first-base line to start the inning. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba's RBI single and an RBI groundout by Herrera gave the Rockies a 2-0 advantage.
Wacha then made perhaps his most glaring error of the day in the third, leaving a letter-high cutter to Tulowitzki floating over the plate. Tulowitzki smoked the pitch over the center-field wall, the two-run shot splashing into the home-run fountain to put the Rockies up 4-0.
While a deflating loss, one certainly harder to swallow after 15 innings to play, the Cardinals know they're still on the doorstep to the postseason.
"We control our own fate here," Kozma said. "Losing games like this hurts a little bit. Still got to play. If we keep on playing the way we have been, we'll be OK."
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.