After prized rookie Matt Harvey gave up three runs in the second inning, the New York Mets sensed a teaching moment.

Manager Terry Collins said he and pitching coach Dan Warthen "looked at each other and we said, "'Now, we'll see what we've got here.'"

"I was really impressed with how he went about his job," Collins added.

Only one runner got into scoring position over the last three innings against Harvey in New York's 5-1 loss to Jaime Garcia and the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night.

It wasn't much consolation for Harvey, the Mets' 2010 first-round draft pick.

"It's my job to go out there and put up zeros and I didn't do that," he said. "I think they recognized I wasn't going in very well and I was missing."

The five-inning stint matched the shortest of eight career starts for the 24-year-old right-hander. Harvey's string of four consecutive quality starts was the Mets' best in a single season by a rookie since Jae Seo had six straight in 2003.

It was one of his final outings, too.

Harvey (3-4) has thrown 157 1-3 innings this season, including 110 for Triple-A Buffalo, and the Mets don't want to overload him.

Collins said "it hasn't been determined" how many more starts Harvey will get, but added: "There's not going to be many more."

Harvey wasn't thinking about that.

"I'm going to prepare for every start and prepare my body for the end of the season," he said. "Whoever makes those decisions when my last start is, that's their call."

The Mets have scored only 16 runs while Harvey has been in the game.

Garcia carried a shutout into the eighth inning and Yadier Molina got his 1,000th career hit with an infield single that started the three-run second.

Daniel Descalso and David Freese had two hits and an RBI apiece for the Cardinals, who are 42-26 at home for the second-best mark in the National League. St. Louis will go for a three-game sweep Wednesday with Adam Wainwright facing 17-game winner R.A. Dickey.

Descalso botched a double-play ball in the eighth, but also stole third in the sixth, putting him in position to score on John Jay's groundout against Justin Hampson that made it 4-0.

Pinch-hitter Mike Baxter hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly off Lance Lynn in the eighth. Left fielder Adron Chambers, who ran for Matt Holliday in the seventh, caught Daniel Murphy's drive at the left-field wall to end the threat and then bounced into the fence in front of the visitors' bullpen.

Holliday left the game with lower back tightness after walking to start the seventh. The Cardinals said Holliday, among the league leaders with 92 RBIs, was day to day.

Garcia (4-6) gave up an unearned run in 7 1-3 innings for his first victory in five decisions since May 16 and first in four starts since coming off the disabled list. He was sidelined for 64 games by a shoulder strain.

In two home starts since then he's allowed one run in 15 1-3 innings while going 0-2 on the road and giving up 10 runs in 11 1-3 innings. Garcia is 2-2 at home with a 2.63 ERA this year and 2-4 with a 5.80 ERA on the road.

Molina got a prolonged ovation after barely beating David Wright's throw on a slow roller up the third base line for his milestone hit. The Cardinals added three more singles by Freese, Skip Schumaker and Descalso to open the inning.

NOTES: Garcia had three sacrifice bunts after entering the game with one in his first 14 starts. ... Retired Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart and Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis threw out first pitches. Laurinaitis left shortly after his appearance to study film for Sunday's opener at Detroit. ... RHP Jeurys Familia, among the Mets' call-ups, worked a scoreless eighth in his major league debut.