The Cardinals roughed up Randy Johnson for four runs in the first en route to a 7-4 win that struck a serious blow to Arizona's postseason hopes.
The D-backs trail the first-place Dodgers by three games in the National League West with just five games remaining.
"There's no doubt that it's a tough loss, a big loss," center fielder Chris Young said. "We'll have to find a way to get over it."
They couldn't figure out how to overcome a first inning that seemed to suck the life out of a team that had won seven of its previous eight games and was feeling good about its chances of catching the Dodgers.
The game started promising for Arizona, with Stephen Drew and Augie Ojeda leading off with back-to-back singles. One out later, Adam Dunn was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse appeared to be on the ropes, but punched his way off them by striking out Justin Upton and getting Young to ground out to end the inning with the bases full of stranded D-backs.
"Me and 'J-Up' both came up in that situation and just didn't come through," Young said. "There's no other way to word it. We had an opportunity and we didn't take advantage of it."
The Cardinals wasted little time making the D-backs pay, as the first three hitters for them in the first singled with Albert Pujols driving in Cesar Izturis.
After a fly out, Johnson tried to get an 0-1 slider inside on Ryan Ludwick, missed badly with the location and left it out over the middle of the plate. Ludwick crushed the ball into the seats in left-center and the Cardinals had a 4-0 lead.
"The first inning was key for both teams," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. "We had an opportunity in the first and a lot of times, if you can take advantage of that, a lot of momentum swings to your dugout. Then the opposite happened. They got it done in the first inning. They got some big hits, scored some runs and put us on the defensive. It looked like it took Randy an inning to get his rhythm. After an inning, he looked pretty good."
Johnson (10-10) did not allow hit for the next three innings and the D-backs did cut the Cardinals lead in half thanks to Young's two-run homer in the fourth, but they just could not get over the hump.
"I had one bad inning," Johnson said. "I shut them down the rest of the night essentially. I don't know what more I can say."
Overall, Johnson allowed five runs on seven hits over six innings.
"After he gave up a couple hits, I think he got a little bit upset because they got a couple of soft hits," catcher Miguel Montero said of Johnson in the first inning. "He got a little bit upset and I don't think he made a quality pitch. I don't know if that was the reason why, but he threw five strong innings after that."
Johnson, who has 294 career wins, has not won a game since Aug. 12, a span of seven starts. In some of those games, he pitched well enough to win, but either didn't get enough run support or saw a lead given up by the bullpen.
"It's just frustrating," Johnson said. "I haven't been this frustrated since 2004 here. So, yeah, without a doubt, it's been frustrating since the All-Star break for me."
Is that because he feels he's pitched well enough to win, but doesn't have much to show for it he was asked?
"I guess you could say that from selfish standpoint," he said. "But if we were winning those games, then we probably wouldn't be [three] games back. It's just frustrating because I go out and pitch a game like today and you feel like maybe things will turn around and win a ballgame when you're out there pitching. Today I didn't have my best stuff and the first inning really was the ballgame there, because after that I felt like everything was pretty much under control."
The D-backs were able to climb to within 5-3 after Montero homered in the sixth, but reliever Jon Rauch gave up a pair of runs in the seventh as the Cardinals pulled away.
"It was a little demoralizing, the two runs they added on later," Melvin said. "It took the wind out of our sails a little bit."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.