ST. LOUIS -- It is only a short flight to Pittsburgh, but the Pirates will have spent most of it thinking about what might have been.
For the second time in three games, the Pirates lost in extra innings to the St. Louis Cardinals, dropping a 6-5 decision in 12 innings Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium.
On the heels of a 9-2 homestand, the Pirates (71-49) went 1-5 on a two-city road trip. They lost two of three games against the Cardinals (69-51), who now trail the first-place Pirates by two games in the National League Central Division.
It was the first series win for the Cardinals against the Pirates this season.
"It's big," said Matt Carpenter, who scored the winning run and was a homer shy of hitting for the cycle. "This is a good club over there. They've been playing great all season. For us to come and win this series is big for us, and to do it with extra innings makes it more special. That was a tough game."
The Cardinals beat the Pirates in a 14-inning marathon that started Tuesday and ended early Wednesday. With chances to win all three games against St. Louis this series, losing two of three is a bit more challenging to handle.
Two weeks ago, the Cardinals left Pittsburgh after dropping four of five games in what was billed as a pivotal series. After the Cardinals lost their fourth consecutive game in that series, ace Adam Wainwright pledged St. Louis would turn things around. Now, the Pirates are chirping the Cardinals' tune.
"We've got them later in the year, so we'll have to show up big," said reliever Tony Watson, who pitched three scoreless innings Thursday.
Matt Holliday drove in the winning run with one out in the 12th, smacking a line-drive single into center against Pirates reliever Bryan Morris.
"That last pitch, it caught more of the plate than I wanted it to," Morris said. "That's about it."
The Pirates had a number of chances to take control. They scored four runs off St. Louis starter Lance Lynn in the fifth to jump out to a big lead, but the Cardinals scored five off A.J. Burnett in the bottom of the inning to take the lead.
And after Russell Martin tied the score with a solo homer in the eighth, the Pirates twice had the potential go-ahead run in scoring position, but they never could move him past second.
Neil Walker nearly drove in the go-ahead run in the 11th. With runners on first and second and two outs, Walker pulled the first pitch about three inches foul down the right-field line. Two pitches later, Walker grounded out to end the inning.
"We had a number of guys that had opportunities," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The great thing about what we're going through is the challenges and opportunities we're all getting moving forward through the season. This is playoff-atmosphere baseball."
Burnett's outing fell apart in the fifth when, Hurdle said, he elevated his fastball and lost some life on his curveball. Pitching with a cushion, Burnett surrendered six hits in the inning, ending his afternoon early.
"It's on me today," Burnett said.
"You can't let a team come back. As good as these guys are, it doesn't matter. You've got to put your foot down at some point."
Burnett allowed five earned runs and eight hits in 41/3 innings. He walked one and struck out four, throwing 52 of his 76 pitches for strikes.
He cruised through the first three innings on 27 pitches and faced the minimum number of batters.
He said he didn't feel much changed in his game in the fourth and fifth, when he struggled.
"It's just a matter of putting them away, and that's what I didn't do," Burnett said. "It seemed like I got in good counts here and there and I wasn't able to put them away. When I thought I did, they hung in there and battled the whole time."
Lynn allowed four earned runs and eight hits in 51/3 innings. He threw 99 pitches, 62 for strikes.
The Cardinals' big fifth negated the Pirates' outburst in the top half of the inning, when they collectively hit for the cycle.
Garrett Jones singled, Andrew Lambo doubled, Clint Barmes homered and Starling Marte tripled as the Pirates built a lead for the third consecutive game against the Cardinals in the three-game series.
For Lambo, the double to right-center was his first career hit, and it led to his first career RBI, as Jones scored from first to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
Lambo then scored his first career run as the Pirates lead swelled to 3-0 when Barmes homered to left. It was his third homer this season and first since May 12.
First Published August 15, 2013 10:15 PM