Not even a soggy night could wash away the Pirates' recent struggles.
Instead, the Cardinals poured on another loss.
St. Louis survived a late rally to beat the Pirates, 4-3, Monday night at PNC Park and stretch their wild card lead to three games. It was the Pirates' sixth loss in their past seven games, a stretch that started with a one-game lead over their division foes for the National League's final playoff spot.
"Yeah, it's a grind and it's August and there are a lot of guys in here that are dragging a little bit, but every team we play, they're doing the same thing," shortstop Clint Barmes said. "In a way, it's who wants it more. We've got to step up and start playing better baseball."
Matt Holliday crushed his 24th home run of the season and Allen Craig continued his recent domination of the Pirates, going 2 for 4 with a double and a run. He is hitting .417 against the Pirates this season with seven runs, six doubles and eight RBIs in nine games.
Craig is an aggressive hitter, who capitalizes on the Pirates' tendency to be aggressive early in the count.
"He's just a very good hitter with power," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've had our challenges with him since we've seen him."
The Pirates had the go-ahead run on first base with two outs in the eighth inning before St. Louis closer Jason Motte got Josh Harrison to hit into a fielder's choice, the first out in a four-out save.
A.J. Burnett took the loss for the Pirates (68-60) allowing four runs, three earned, on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. He did not get much help from his defense, which committed two errors while Burnett was on the mound.
"It's been our month, that way," said Barmes, who committed a throwing error that led to a run in the sixth inning. "It's not been a lot of fun, obviously. It's been a grind for us. If we're going to win games, we've got to get back to the way we were playing defensively. That leaks over into our pitching."
Burnett's night fell apart in the fifth and sixth innings, where he allowed all of his runs and surrendered a combined six hits while throwing one wild pitch. It was only Burnett's second loss at PNC Park this season in 13 starts.
Kyle Lohse earned the win for the Cardinals (71-57), allowing two earned runs on five hits in five innings.
Barmes sparked the Pirates in the seventh with a one-out RBI double that scored Harrison from second and pulled the Pirates within a run of the Cardinals. But Barmes was stranded at second for the second time in the game after the Pirates failed to advance him in the fifth inning as well.
Holliday gave the Cardinals a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning with a solo home run against Burnett. Holliday worked Burnett into a 3-0 count, watched strike one and crushed the next pitch -- a 91-mph fastball -- about seven rows above the Clemente Wall, giving the Cardinals their first lead of the game.
The RBI was Holliday's 90th of the season, the most in the National League.
The Cardinals added to their lead later in the inning, when Yadier Molina hit a sacrifice fly that nearly sailed over Travis Snider's head, scoring Craig.
Then, the tarp came out, as the rain that had been misting for all of the night intensified into a steady shower. The delay lasted 34 minutes and ended Burnett's night, as Jared Hughes took the mound when play resumed.
St. Louis tied the score in the fifth inning with a barrage of hits. Molina singled to lead off the inning and scored when Skip Schumaker doubled to left-centerfield. McCutchen grimaced as he fielded the ball and hobbled back to his spot in center after throwing the ball toward the infield. But he remained in the game.
Hurdle said McCutchen rolled his ankle on the soggy grass but should be fine.
"I'll live," McCutchen said.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published August 28, 2012 3:00 AM