A baserunning mistake and bad luck led to two double plays that cost the Pirates important chances to score early, while a Jordy Mercer error led to three unearned Cardinals runs in a 4-1 loss.
"With a good team like the Cardinals, you got be able to come through in those situations," Andrew McCutchen said. "We missed out on some opportunities."
The first run-killing double play came in the first inning.
Gregory Polanco drove Carlos Martinez's fifth pitch of the game into left-center field for a leadoff double. Neil Walker followed with a single to move Polanco over to third, and the Pirates were in business. A loud roar rose from the boisterous crowd at PNC as McCutchen's name was announced.
But then things went terribly wrong.
McCutchen hit a groundball to third and Polanco froze, then took a fatal step back to third. After Cardinals third baseman Mark Reynolds threw the ball to second for the force, Polanco started for home. Matt Carpenter accepted the throw at second and then threw home just in time to complete a rare 5-4-2 double play.
"We had a baserunning gaffe," Hurdle said, confirming that the contact play was on.
While Polanco has added runs with aggressive baserunning all season, his moment of mistimed timidity cost the Pirates an early run.
"That's something you learn over time," McCutchen said of Polanco's indecision. "A ball hit that soft you want to react right away. If you don't react, you know you probably should stay at the base. ... It's just something you continue to learn. Next time it happens I'm sure he's going to take off for home."
In the fourth, the Pirates were again poised to punch through only to be frustrated by another unlikely turn of events.
The inning began with Jo-Hung Kang getting hit by a pitch. Francisco Cervelli followed with a single, and then both runners advanced on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third and no outs, Pedro Alvarez hit a low liner that Carlos Martinez speared and tossed to third to double off Kang. Mercer struck out to end the inning.
"We had an opportunity to push a run in the first and push a run in the fourth," Hurdle said. "The play in the fourth was a very good play. Whether he made the play or we hit it in his glove I don't know. Instinctively, you take another step, you're cooked at third base."
Martinez looked dominant at times, finishing with eight strike outs over 7.1 scoreless innings.
"He settled in," Hurdle said of the Cardinals right-hander. "He made pitches. We weren't able to scratch much after [the fourth]."
Jeff Locke looked good through four, but things got wobbly after Randal Grichuk singled to leadoff the fifth. Xavier Scruggs reached base when Mercer muffed a slow grounder and Martinez followed with a sacrifice. When Locke hit Peter Boujos with a pitch, the Cardinals had bases loaded for Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals second baseman dropped a single into right field, which scored both Grichuk and Scruggs. After Jhonny Peralta struck out and Jason Heyward walked, Yadier Molina lined a bases loaded single to put the Cardinals up 4-0.
"I think he made a couple of good pitches that got tight, but not tight enough," Hurdle said of Locke's fifth inning. "A couple balls that weren't barrelled found outfield grass. We played four outs in the inning that complicated things."
Locke allowed four runs, only one earned, over five innings pitched. He walked three while striking out five.
The Pirates got on the board in the ninth on a McCutchen solo homer off the hitter's eye in center.
"I'm looking forward to going bed and taking a little nap, and we'll get back out here when it is time to get out here," Hurdle said. "Pirates love tomorrow."
NOTE: Hurdle said that Marte "got a little better today," and added, that they are going to keep his status for tomorrow "secret."