ST. LOUIS -- Closing out games plagued the Marlins for much of the first half, and it happened again in the team's finale before the All-Star break.
Twice closer Heath Bell was one strike away from preserving a victory. Getting that elusive final out, though, again didn't happen.
Rafael Furcal's two-out, two-run single off Bell in the ninth inning rallied the Cardinals to a 5-4 win in front of 38,436 at Busch Stadium on Sunday.
A three-run, pinch-hit home run by Austin Kearns gave the Marlins a two-run cushion in the ninth inning. But Bell, 19-for-25 in save chances, was frustrated again by a late rally.
So rather than going into the break one game under .500, the Marlins are 41-44, nine games behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East.
"I feel that I've let the whole organization down, and I'm the reason that we're [nine] games back," Bell said. "Plain and simple, I've had the worst first half I've ever had. I think all my teammates can definitely blame me. The simple fact is we're nine games back. If I'd been doing my job, we'd be right in the hunt."
All season, manager Ozzie Guillen has backed Bell. The manager has used him in 40 games and has given the three-time All-Star every opportunity to turn his rough first half around.
After the game, Guillen stated he may consider his closing options. The likely choice would be Steve Cishek, who struck out Matt Holliday to strand a runner on second base in the eighth inning.
"I have to make a decision, and if I have to make a solution that will be drastic, I will do it," Guillen said. "We're going to wait until after the All-Star break, and I'm going to pick whoever is better out there to close the game. That's the bottom line. If you can't do the job, we'll find somebody else to do the job."
Leading, 4-2, entering the ninth, Bell struck out Carlos Beltran to open the inning. But Allen Craig singled and moved to third on Matt Carpenter's ground-rule double. Pinch-hitting, David Freese walked on four pitches, loading the bases.
Tony Cruz's sacrifice fly to left made it a one-run game, and Daniel Descalso rebounded from an 0-2 count to complete a 10-pitch showdown with a walk.
"You've got to get him in the zone," Descalso said. "He's been a little erratic lately, and as you saw today, when you lay off the balls, take your walks, he'll come over the middle of the plate."
Still, Bell was positioned to get the final out. He had Furcal in a 1-2 hole, but the veteran went the other way, slapping the game-winning single to left.
"I just wanted to make him make pitches and put the ball in play," Furcal said. "I didn't want to strike out or try to pull the ball. I'll swing at whatever they give to me, drive it the other way and that's what happened."
Freese scored the game-winning run on a close play at the plate after Carpenter scored in front of him. Logan Morrison made a strong throw that catcher John Buck fielded on a hop and applied the tag. Initially, the Marlins thought Freese was out, but home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi ruled him safe.
"It was a short hop that took me back about a foot," Buck said. "I felt his front leg hit my shin, that's why I thought his foot didn't get in. I came in here and checked it. I think he got in."
The Marlins finished their road trip at 3-4. At one stretch, Bell pitched in four straight games. The right-hander picked up a save on Friday night at St. Louis, but on July 3 at Milwaukee, he allowed a two-out, two-run homer to Aramis Ramirez at Miller Park.
Miami had overcome a seven-run deficit on that day, and took the lead in the 10th inning before Ramirez's homer to center.
"I stand behind him," Guillen said. "But on the other hand, he's got to be better than that. If he's not getting better, I'll find a solution. It gets tiring to watch this, very disappointing to watch this every day.
"I've tried to give this kid confidence, hope, but it gets to the point where we have to win some games. Games like that, it always hurts. And we've been hurting a lot."
Bell enters the break at 2-5 with a 6.75 ERA, with 32 strikeouts and 20 walks in 34 2/3 innings.
How the Marlins handle the closer's role, Bell says, is the manager's decision.
"He's had my back," Bell said. "I like Ozzie as a manager, but he has to do the best thing and the right thing for the team. Right now, I plain out [stink]."
Bell has been frustrated this season about every way imaginable. Twice within a week, he was either one out or one strike away from picking up saves.
"The simple fact is I've had bad luck," he said. "One strike away. Blah, blah, blah, you name it, I've had it this year. And I've failed to do my job."