ST. LOUIS — With the St. Louis Cardinals poised to overtake the Pirates in the National League Central Division standings, Adam Wainwright rose to the occasion. He kept the Pirates off the bases, kept the ball off the playing field and ensured that whatever the Cardinals offense could muster would be enough.
Jeff Locke was serviceable in his return, but it would not matter. The Pirates could not solve Wainwright in a 5-0 loss Saturday night at Busch Stadium, which dropped the Pirates into second place in the division, one-half game below the Cardinals.
"That's not a big deal to us," Locke said. "We bounced back and forth all season with them, and Cincinnati's winning too. The season doesn't end tomorrow or tonight. The team really doesn't panic in here."
The Cincinnati Reds, who won Saturday in 10 innings, trail the Pirates by only a game after the Pirates' third consecutive loss.
"It's a sense of not panicking," Andrew McCutchen said. "We got a lot of ball left. Anything can happen. We just got to keep going, keep pushing, keep playing hard like we have been doing."
Wainwright rediscovered the form that had him in the discussion for the NL Cy Young award earlier this season. In seven scoreless innings, Wainwright (16-9) allowed two hits and struck out eight.
"You know that he's one of the best in the game," Locke said. "He's at home and it's a big game, and who else would those guys want on the mound than him?"
The Pirates caught Wainwright after a rare spell of ineffectiveness. In Wainwright's two previous starts, he allowed 15 runs in eight innings, including three home runs.
McCutchen had both hits against Wainwright. If it wasn't Wainwright's curveball, which he didn't hang often Saturday, it was his changeup. If it wasn't the changeup, it was the cutter or the fastball, which he painted on the corners to strike out McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez looking to end the sixth and seventh.
"Kept his pitches down, took advantage of the calls and that was it," McCutchen said.
In Locke's first start since Aug. 27, he allowed three runs, two of them earned, in five innings. He walked four and threw only 53 of his 91 pitches for strikes.
In four of his five innings, Locke put the leadoff batter on base.
Jeanmar Gomez replaced Locke in the sixth and promptly gave up David Freese's eighth home run of the season, a 425-foot blast to center field.
Locke walked three of the first six batters he faced. He has dealt with poor control in the second half -- his walks issued per nine innings rose from 3.9 in the first half to 6.2 in the second -- but Saturday, he also had to adjust to home-plate umpire Larry Vanover's strike zone.
"I don't get to make the calls back there," Locke said. "And that's out of my control."
He missed with close pitches during Freese's plate appearance in the second before walking him, and threw two close pitches to Brock Peterson that were called balls before Peterson flied out.
Locke (9-5) prevented the Cardinals from scoring but threw only 18 of his 39 pitches for strikes in the first two innings.
"Really, what felt good for me tonight was after [Matt] Carpenter led off the game with a walk, [Shane] Robinson strikes out, [Matt] Holliday hits into a double play," Locke said. "For me, I felt like I needed to get out of that first inning tonight. Get out of the first, get back in the dugout and let the guys get out there and swing a little bit."
A walk to Carlos Beltran in the fourth and Yadier Molina's double put runners on second and third. Freese lined out to left, scoring Beltran.
Peterson struck out. Pete Kozma grounded a ball down the third-base line that Pedro Alvarez dived for and stopped. Kozma beat Alvarez's throw from his knees, though, for an RBI single.
Charlie Morton, the Pirates' best starter of late, takes the mound today as they try to avoid a sweep.
"We need to step it up and get going, get guys on and runners in scoring position and all that," McCutchen said. "We just got to keep going out there and keep playing, keep battling."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 8, 2013 2:15 AM