PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Pirates' promising season won't end up a winning one.
Nick Punto hit a go-ahead double in the ninth inning, and the surging St. Louis Cardinals overcame three errors by first baseman Albert Pujols to beat the Pirates 6-4 Tuesday night and ensure Pittsburgh of a 19th straight non-winning season.
This year, however, at least provided some intrigue. The Pirates were in first place in late July, but a 16-37 swoon has relegated them to also-ran status.
Still, even at 67-81 they already have 10 more victories than they had a year ago and can bolster that total over the final two weeks of this season.
``We haven't done enough things in a number of these games that have put us in position to have 81 losses, that's where we are right now,' said manager Clint Hurdle, who was ejected in the sixth inning for arguing.
Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer in the seventh off St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter to tie the game at 4, but the Cardinals responded with two runs in the ninth off Pittsburgh closer Joel Hanrahan (0-4).
``You don't use Joel, the job doesn't get done,' Hurdle said. ``Joel was in a spot to give us a shutdown inning for us to score a run. He wants the ball, he wasn't able to hold him there and we missed an opportunity to execute.'
Trying to stay in the wild card and NL Central races, the Cardinals won for the sixth time in seven games.
Working on the day he signed a $21 million, two-year contract, Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter hit an early two-run single. He took a 4-2 lead into the seventh before McCutchen tied it.
``I was battling all night but I made some good pitches when I had to,' Carpenter said. ``It was one of those nights ... but it wasn't like they were bashing it all over the place. But we did what we needed to do, and that's what's important right now.'
Punto delivered on a hit-and-run play, driving in pinch-runner Tyler Greene. Pujols provided some insurance with a sacrifice fly.
``We still got a huge hole to climb out of, but at least we're playing some meaningful baseball in September,' Punto said.
The Pirates put runners on first and second with no outs in the ninth, but Pedro Ciriaco bunted into a forceout, and Neil Walker grounded into a double play to end it.
``Our execution really hurt us,' Hurdle said.
Particularly in the fifth and sixth innings. The team lost a run in the fifth when third-base umpire Sam Holbrook ruled Ciriaco left too early on a sacrifice fly by Derrek Lee.
Hurdle came out to argue before heading back to the dugout, then took up the cause a half-inning later and was promptly ejected for the fifth time this season.
``I couldn't let Pedro wear it,' Hurdle said. ``Everybody in the ballpark thinks he left early and that's not normal protocol to go in there after that but I had someone I trust tell me, 'No, he left right on time' and I just can't let the kid wear it. I've got to have his back.'
Kyle McClellan (11-6) earned the win in relief, and Jason Motte worked the ninth for his sixth save.
Carpenter, now signed through 2013, allowed 10 hits, walked one and struck out six. The 36-year-old right-hander appeared well on his way to his 10th victory of the season until McCutchen hit his 23rd homer, snapping out of a 1-for-15 slump.
Daniel Descalso singled with one out in the St. Louis ninth for his third hit of the night, and Greene pinch ran. Punto followed with a drive to left-center to put the Cardinals ahead. With the bases loaded, Pujols atoned for his defensive miscues with a sacrifice fly to right.
Pittsburgh, which rallied for a dramatic 6-5 win on Monday, couldn't do it for a second straight night.
Jeff Karstens, who skipped his last two starts because of a sore shoulder, gave up four runs in 4 1-3 innings. He got knocked around a bit in the second and in the fifth.
Still, he remained upbeat about how his arm felt. One of the NL's biggest surprises two months ago, Karstens has just one win since July 20.
``Tonight was a case of I really didn't command my fastball very well, and when I left it over the plate they were able to do some damage with it,' Karstens said.
NOTES: The Cardinals activated right-handed reliever Eduardo Sanchez from the 60-day DL. He hasn't pitched since June because of a strained shoulder. ... The series concludes on Wednesday, with Edwin Jackson (4-2, 3.39 ERA) starting for the Cardinals. Charlie Morton (9-9, 3.81 ERA) gets the nod for Pittsburgh. ... Morton has struggled against the Cardinals, going just 2-4 with a 6.69 ERA against them in seven career starts. ... The 27-year-old Jackson has a career mark of 59-60.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved