ST. LOUIS -- Chance after chance after chance, these Pirates squandered last night.
The fourth inning, they started with runners on first and second with nobody out. That became second and third with two outs.
The fifth inning, they had first and third with two out, and a run already had scored.
Nothing more there.
The sixth inning, they had the bases loaded with just one out.
Nothing the rest of the game -- not a hit, not a baserunner, zilch. Ten batters retired in an ugly row that culminated with a 4-2 loss to the host Cardinals in what became the Pirates' fourth consecutive defeat, their eighth in the past nine games since they cinched that above-.500 April in San Diego -- anyone remember 11-7? -- and their ninth in the past 12 games.
- Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 1:40 p.m., Busch Stadium.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: : RHP Ross Ohlendorf (3-2, 3.48) vs. RHP Todd Wellemeyer (2-2, 5.28)
- Key matchup: Wellemeyer fares quite well against the Pirates' Nos. 3-4 hitters, with Nate McLouth 2 for 15 against him, Adam LaRoche 4 for 23.
- Of note: Ohlendorf has posted a 2.70 ERA while winning his past three starts, but he has had plenty of help, too, with 20 runs of support from the offense.
"We got to keep grinding," Andy LaRoche, one of six different Pirates to stand on second or third base inside Busch Stadium last night and stray no further. In all, the visitors stranded nine baserunners and went 3 for 12 with runners in scoring position -- all in the opening six innings. "We can't get down on ourselves. When you do that, it snowballs deeper and deeper."
These-once 11-7 Pirates have slipped to 12-15, and it isn't just the Brewers beating them.
Last night, they couldn't overcome a rookie St. Louis starter, Mitchell Boggs. He threw just six strikes in a busy, three-walk second inning that saw the Pirates: get Jason Jaramillo thrown at a home plate well blocked by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina; hit into a double play; strand two more baserunners and score only one run.
Fact is, the Pirates got five hits and five walks against a Boggs who threw more balls than strikes in his 4 1/3 innings -- but the visitors mustered just two runs.
"We had the guy on the ropes a couple of times and we weren't able to beat him," said Zach Duke (3-3), who allowed four runs, his second-most in six starts thus far, but still gave the Pirates a chance to win.
"He gave us an opportunity," manager John Russell said. "It was a close game. We get a hit here or there, it's a different story.
"We're getting guys out there [on base]. It's been kind of lingering the last five, six games for us. Struggling to score runs. Just can't get the big hit right now."
That hit didn't elude the Cardinals, though. When the home side got a runner aboard, it plated the guy.
Albert Pujols, with two out in the first inning, gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead with his 11th home run of the season -- and 37th career, his second most against any major-league foe, along with his 109th RBI, his most, in 132 games vs. the Pirates. "I'm happy that I kept him in the ballpark after that," Duke said.
The Pirates tied it the next inning on Morgan's single to score first-time Pirates starter Delwyn Young, who singled and moved to third on walks. It could've been a bigger inning for the visitors, but Jaramillo was tagged out at home when Molina completely blocked the plate and then swiped Jaramillo before his Pirates counterpart catcher could even get a piece of home on his slide.
Two big Cardinals hits produced three runs in the fourth, the biggest being Chris Duncan's ball to the wall in right-center field, where Young couldn't quite snag it. Duncan's triple thus scored Pujols and Ludwick. And Khalil Greene's sacrifice fly to short center field resulted in a Nate McLouth throw to the opposite side of home plate, allowing Ludwick to score for a 4-1 St. Louis lead.
The Pirates stranded seven baserunners in those missed-opportunity fourth, fifth and sixth innings, a fat middle of the game in which they swung and missed.
To top off their offensive foibles, they loaded the bases in the sixth, with one out and Freddy Sanchez -- one of the National League's top hitters -- at the plate. Sanchez hit into a double play.
A Cardinals bullpen they torched for six runs in nine innings of relief here in the season's opening week? It shut them down in the end last night: one hit, one walk and nothing to show for 4 2/3 innings of work by such St. Louis relievers as Trever Miller, Kyle McClellan (2-1), Dennys Reyes, Jason Matte (who blew a Cardinals save against them on Opening Day) and Ryan Franklin, who recorded his eighth save.
"It seemed like, yeah, we did have a lot of opportunities," LaRoche said. "We had plenty of opportunities to score. There's not one thing that sticks out. When we were doing well, it was a different person stepping up each day with that clutch hit or big pitch. Right now, it seems like everybody is going through that same thing right now. We can't get that one hit or one pitch we need."
First Published May 7, 2009 4:00 AM