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Pirates’ rally falls short in 11-10 loss

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates watched another starting pitcher get torched and fell behind the Cardinals by eight runs before competing furiously for seven runs in the last two innings. In the end, though, it was another loss, this time 11-10.

Trevor Williams had nothing from the start. He struggled to throw strikes and when he did, he threw big, fat ones. Against an anemic lineup like, say, the Pirates’ on most days, a pitcher can survive like that, but not against the Cardinals’ lineup. Williams set the tone for the game by serving up a gopher ball to the second batter he faced, Tommy Pham. Josh Harrison got that back with his fourteenth HR in the bottom half, but Williams put the Pirates in a deep hole in the second. Two hits, a walk and another gopher ball made it 5-1.

The Pirates chipped away a little in the bottom of the second, as David Freese went deep for the ninth time. They had a chance to do more damage, but Williams bunted into a double play with two men on. Williams then gave up a third gopher ball, to Paul DeJong, in the third.

Clint Hurdle belatedly pulled the plug in the fourth, waiting until after the first two batters singled. With Steve Brault replacing Williams, Carlos Martinez made Williams’ day look even worse. He laid down a very good bunt with runners on the corners; Brault made a nice flip to the plate, turning it into a close play, but the Pirates got nobody.

On the pitching end, Brault was wild initially, but got over it. Following the bunt, he walked Matt Carpenter to load the bases and went to a full count on Pham, but recovered to get three straight outs, allowing one more run on a grounder. That made it 8-2. Brault ended up going four innings and pitched well for the most part. He had one bad stretch in the sixth that started with a double by Martinez and ended with two runs in.

The Pirates meanwhile never really got much going against Martinez, even though his command wasn’t especially good. Starling Marte drove in a third run with a two-out triple, but that was the closest thing to a rally against Martinez after the second.

The Cards started taking regulars out, but White Flag Hudson had trouble anyway, giving up a run in the eighth to make it 11-3. That run would end up much bigger than it seemed at first.

The Pirates took out some of their own regulars, with Max Moroff replacing Harrison and Sean Rodriguez actually heading to center field. The moves worked better than expected. Facing somebody named Michael Myers Mike Mayers, Moroff blasted his second HR into the river with a man on in the eighth. A walk to Rodriguez and an RBI double by Josh Bell brought in one more. An error and an Elias Diaz double made it 11-8. Diaz, however, dampened any developing enthusiasm by getting himself thrown out at third.

A.J. Schugel had an easy ninth, then the Cards, who have their own bullpen problems, went with Matt Bowman. A pair of one-out walks may have had Hurdle questioning one of his own substitutions, as it brought up, not Andrew McCutchen, but Rodriguez as the tying run. Bowman plunked Rodriguez, which at that point may have had the Cards wishing they’d traded for Tony Watson. Instead they went with, of all people, Zach Duke to face Bell, who fought off a couple of two-strike pitches and walked to force in a run. That brought on Seung Hwan Oh. Freese nearly walked it off, driving a ball almost to the wall near the deepest part of the park in left-center, but he got only a sacrifice fly. Oh intentionally walked Frazier, then made Diaz even more of a goat by fanning him with a slider off the plate.

So the Pirates ended up with their sixth straight loss. The team’s ability to make such a close game out of it again raises the question whether they might still be alive in the division race if the front office had made a real effort to improve the roster in July. Instead, they’re now six and a half games out of first and five behind St. Louis and, pending the outcome of tonight’s late game, Milwaukee.