Pirates fall 6-4 to Cardinals for third-straight loss; Locke struggles at the mound

ST. LOUIS — Last week, Jeff Locke dominated the St. Louis Cardinals and led the Pirates to a win in the final game of a three-game series at PNC Park.

There certainly wasn’t a repeat performance from Locke Tuesday night when he faced the Cardinals for the second time in six days.

The Cardinals played small ball to take advantage of Locke’s wildness and walks and beat the Pirates, 6-4, in front of a crowd of 43,693 in the second game of a three-game series at Busch Stadium.

Locke (6-4) lasted only three-plus innings and gave up five runs (four earned) and four hits, but the key statistic was he issued five walks. In his win against the Cardinals a week ago, he went 71⁄3 innings and walked two.

He said the biggest difference between the performances was that last week he got ahead of hitters and got outs as opposed to Tuesday night when he constantly was behind in the count and struggled to throw strikes.

He said that is a formula for disaster against most teams, but especially against a team such as the Cardinals, who are patient, disciplined and willing to grind out every at-bat and also do a good job of advancing runners.

“I just didn’t have any command,” Locke said. “I fell behind everybody and put them in counts where they got their pitch to hit or just were able to take it and get back into the count they wanted to be in. They were really in the driver’s seat the whole time, we weren’t very efficient, just weren’t throwing enough strikes against a team like that.

“They have a pretty solid approach all the time. They are always [in contention] at the end and that’s where they expect to be. But we have to do a better job of getting ahead in the count and not try to throw a two-strike pitch on 0-0 every time.”

The loss was the Pirates’ third in a row and second in a row against the Cardinals (75-63), who lead them by four games in the National League Central Division race.

If there was a silver lining for the Pirates (71-67) it is that both teams — the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers — in front of them in the wild-card race also lost. As a result, they remained only two games out of the second wild-card spot.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals improved to 10-8 against the Pirates and clinched the season series. The Pirates have lost the season series to three of their four division rivals (Cardinals, Brewers and Cincinnati Reds).

Cardinals starter Adam Wainright (16-9) wasn’t dominant as he went six innings, gave up seven hits and four runs (all earned), but he still joined Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto as the only three National League pitchers with 16 wins.

Ironically, Wainright, who has had a lot of success pitching against the Pirates, did most of his damage with his bat Tuesday night, going 1 for 3 with three RBIs. That included driving in the two runs that knocked Locke out of the game.

Pirates catcher Russell Martin, who was 1 for 4 with a second-inning solo home run, said that it shouldn’t be a surprise that both pitchers gave up some runs because both lineups had faced them last week.

“It didn’t look any different in terms of the velocity or stuff [both pitchers had],” Martin said. “But, typically, when you see someone for the second time in a short amount of time, you get a better feel for them. You’ve seen his breaking ball, his cutter, his fastball — so you know what to expect.

“As a hitter, you just feel more comfortable once you have seen someone, and it can be anyone, it could be someone in the bullpen you see on back-to-back days, you get a good feel for where their release point is, what kind of action is on the ball — I think the hitters have the advantage.”

Locke’s struggles with his command started in the first as the Cardinals used a single by Randal Grichuk and walks to Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta to load the bases with one out.

He escaped the jam when he got Matt Adams and Yadier Molina to pop out but it was clearly a sign of things to come and Cardinals eventually took full advantage of his wildness.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise

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