That was unexpected: Bad hop costs Pirates

That was unexpected: Bad hop costs Pirates

ST. LOUIS -- Charlie Morton had pitched himself into trouble in the second inning. Then pitched himself out of it. Or so he thought, until being rudely reminded that this was Busch Stadium, which never plays fair with his Pirates.

"I feel like I've pitched against them pretty well. I just want to beat them, and it's getting frustrating," Morton was reduced to saying following the Bucs' 4-1 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday.

Morton had already walked a man and hit another in the second inning, but felt confident enough to issue one of those intentional/unintentional walks to Matt Carpenter to load the bases with two outs.

"I pitched around [the lefty-hitting] Carp to get to [righty-hitting rookie Stephen] Piscotty," Morton said. "Carp has seen me a lot, he's a great hitter, I do better against right-handers, so I felt I had a better chance."

So Morton got the man he wanted. And he got the result he wanted -- a nice, bouncing ball toward second baseman Josh Harrison, waiting for it behind the bag.

In the few instants he had, Harrison decided on the best way to play the ball.

He could charge it, try to glove it before it reached the base. "But," he recalled, "I might get to it between hops, and not be really set for a throw."

So Harrison stayed back, "set up to take the chop and make the throw."

That's when the ball made a decision of its own, to not cooperate, bouncing crazy, fast and high.

"That wasn't anything I expected," said Harrison, who did manage to glove the ball with a high leap that left his body in no position to make an accurate throw -- which thus skipped past first baseman Michael Morse to allow a second run to score.

"I got the ground ball, exactly what we were trying to do," Morton said. "It just took a weird hop. [The hit] was hot, the ground is hard, the ball had a bunch of top spin. J-Hay made a good play to keep it in the infield, but he had to rush the throw."

"Just tremendous top spin," manager Clint Hurdle said with a shrug. "It got up higher than anyone anticipated, especially Josh. We were so close to getting out of that inning, if we can put that play away. We weren't able to. It was of above-average difficulty after that bounce, but still a play …"

The play didn't get put away, the Cardinals had a 2-0 lead and a couple of hours later had put away the Pirates and put their National League Central lead back to 6 1/2 games. Without those two early runs, Hurdle employs his bullpen differently, and Carpenter may not get to hit a two-run homer off Arquimedes Caminero in the seventh.

And Morton had his eighth straight loss to St. Louis, despite having pitched to a 3.04 ERA in his last five starts against the Cardinals.

"Just one of those things," Harrison said. "Happens once in a blue moon. Must've been a blue moon."

In Missouri, that blue moon can find the Bucs even on a bright afternoon.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.