The Cardinals' Allen Craig slides safely into third base against the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez in the first inning Sunday night at PNC Park.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It had been 18 years since “Sunday Night Baseball” previously showcased the Pirates when the lights and cameras of ESPN rolled into Pittsburgh Sunday night.
The Pirates almost gave a national TV audience a dramatic ninth-inning walk-off win.
But Pirates came up short and lost, 6-5, to National League Central Division rival St. Louis, missing out on a series sweep in front of 32,065 at PNC Park.
Jordy Mercer came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, but grounded into a double play to end the rally after Neil Walker doubled and scored on a single by Andrew McCutchen earlier in the inning.
The loss wrapped up a 6-3 homestand, which is by far the best stretch of this season.
But they are far from out of the woods, as the loss dropped their record to five games below .500 (16-21).
“April was a hard month. It challenged us in a lot of different ways,” said manager Clint Hurdle. “We played through. We started playing more complete games in the homestand. Started to snyc up with our offense, defense. I think we’re finding our rhythm.”
Starter Charlie Morton gave up four first-inning runs — one earned — and the Pirates trailed, 4-0, until a fourth-inning home run by Mercer cut the deficit to 4-2.
A run in the seventh to cut it to 4-3. Alvarez singled in pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez with two outs.
Reliever Bryan Morris gave up two earned runs in the eighth, on a run-scoring single and wild pitch, which made it 6-3.
An RBI groundout by Tony Sanchez drove in another run in the eighth, and the final run scored in the ninth.
Morton could not catch a break in the first.
With one out and a runner on first — who he plunked — Morton appeared to induce a double play with a ground ball, but did not get it.
Instead, a throwing error by Alvarez, who had to make the throw back across his body, put runners on the corners.
After three RBI singles and a sacrifice fly, the Pirates trailed, 4-0. Only one run was earned.
“That was weak contact. Those aren’t ideal ground balls to turn double plays. Pedro’s moving, making a throw across his body. It’s a tough play to turn two with that angle to second,” said Morton. “That’s a tough throw. It just is. I don’t expect for him to turn two right there. I do because how good the guys are behind me, but weak contact like that is less than ideal to turn two.”
The error was the 11th by the Pirates with Morton on the mound this season, the most for any NL pitcher.
Morton recovered well after the first, pitching five scoreless, before putting the Cardinals down in order in the sixth, when his outing ended at 100 pitches.
He gave up seven hits and four runs (one earned), walked one, struck out three, hit one batter, and gave up a sacrifice fly.
He has not recorded a win in eight starts this season.
“I really don’t have many regrets other than that first inning. I can’t let them score four right there,” said Morton. “You try to get back out there and make pitches, keep the team in the game and the Cardinals at four runs. I started throwing the ball better and we were chipping away, we just didn’t quite get there.”
Alvarez came a few feet shy of a two-out grand slam in the third, but Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay caught the long fly ball on the warning track.
Mercer cut the deficit to 4-2 with a two-run shot to left on a 1-1 pitch off Cardinals starter Shelby Miller in the fourth for his first home run this season.
Miller’s outing ended after 51⁄3 innings, giving up four hits, two earned runs, with four walks, two strikeouts, one hit batter and a home run.
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