Bob Smizik: All is not lost

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Some losses register more than others, and this might be one of them.

A three-run lead in the second inning with, if not the ace, the ace-in-waiting on the mound. It looked oh, so sweet for the Pirates in this game, which, it goes without saying, was crucial to their postseason hopes.

But it ended not well, at all. The ace-in-waiting, Gerrit Cole, is still waiting. He lost the lead and then the game. The St. Louis Cardinals, the aristocracy of the National League Central Division, are back to the position their fans think is their birthright -- first place.

Matt Holliday moved the Cardinal to within a run of the lead early and then gave them the lead and the win late -- after a Kelton Wong home run tied the game.

The Cardinals moved past Milwaukee to take over the division lead and the Pirates are three game back. They don't have to win the final two games of this series but that would be nice. One win -- either tonight or tomorrow afternoon -- is virtually mandatory, at least as far as the NL Central is concerned.

The wild-card race if far more fluid and that avenue to the postseason is far more open and, of course, far less desirable.

Wong's home run, off Cole, in the seventh, put the game even at 4. Manager Clint Hurdle stuck with Cole for one more batter and that was a mistake. Jon Jay tripled and then Hurdle went to the bullpen. In a tie game, and presumably a tie game with the winning run on third base, Hurdle does not go with his best and in this case that would have been Tony Watson.

Had Jared Hughes not pitched in two innings Sunday, the call probably would have been to him. But since he had, the ball went to John Axford, the only bullpen help general manager Neal Huntington has added to the team. Going with a second or third option in a tie game in September against a team ahead in the standings is never a strong stance.

Axford was not up to the challenge and Holliday, after a walk to Oscar Tavaras, drove home the winning run with a single.

Jeff Locke, who can be excellent, must pick up the Pirates tonight against the Cardinals Adam Wainwright, who is excellent, although not pitching well of late. Tomorrow afternoon Edinson Volquez pitches against Shelby Miller, who had not done well against the Pirates or against most teams this month.

All is not lost. Far from it. Just last week that the Pirates beat Wainwright and took two of three from St. Louis. After this series, the schedule favors the Pirates, who play 13 consecutive games against team with losing records.

But there's no denying that time is growing short and these games of September are oh, so important. The Pirates let one get away yesterday. The can come back from such a defeat. But not from many more like it.


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