PITTSBURGH -- The moment for which the Pirates had waited 155 games, the chance to take the St. Louis Cardinals in their own hands, became taut theatre Monday night at PNC Park. Then, at the worst possible time, it turned into a theatre of the absurd for the Bucs.
At the end of a night they had spent squandering their own opportunities, the Bucs helped the Cardinals cash in their first opportunity, in the ninth inning of a crushing 3-0 defeat that pushed the Pirates four games out of first place with five to play.
Shortly after the conclusion, it was suggested to Andrew McCutchen that "this game will drive you nuts."
"That's an understatement," McCutchen said, with a wry smile.
Through eight innings, the Pirates had eight runners reach second, four of them advancing to third. None scored. In the top of the ninth, only the second St. Louis runner to reach third was able to turn the base and keep going home as a dribbled 200-foot single was being boxed in right-center by not one, but by two outfielders.
Mark Melancon had entered the scoreless game and fanned pinch-hitter Greg Garcia before Matt Carpenter pulled a single into right -- becoming the Cardinals' fifth baserunner, after the Bucs already had 15.
Jon Jay bounced another single a few feet to the right of second baseman Neil Walker, charged by right fielder Gregory Polanco as Carpenter cut around the second-base bag.
"And then I hear the crowd and [third-base coach Jose] Oquendo waving me," Carpenter said. "I had no idea what was going on. Later I heard a bunch of stuff happened."
Polanco whiffed on trying to scoop up the ball.
"To me, it looked like he was trying to get the ball, make a spin move and throw it in," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was not able to glove it and throw it."
"When I bent for the ball, I just dropped it," Polanco said. "I thought I had it, but it took a little hop to the right."
"I thought maybe he took his eye off it," said Walker, who had been poised to take the throw-in.
As the ball dribbled behind Polanco, McCutchen, on the spot as the back-up on the play, tried to retrieve it … once then, as it squirted out of his glove like a watermelon seed, twice, finally succeding on the third stab.
"I just tried to pick up a wet ball, and I bobbled it, then tried to get it back in," McCutchen said, "But that play isn't why we lost."
McCutchen wasn't referring to the punctuation Mark Reynolds provided with a two-run homer. He was referring to all the base traffic the Bucs had squandered. Through seven innings, St. Louis pitchers had to make twice as many pitches (153) as the Pirates (76) -- and neither team had a run.
"Time of possession ... pitches seen," Hurdle said, with a shrug. "We couldn't find a play.
"We had a hard job coming in," the manager added, alluding to trying to run down the Cardinals, "and it just got harder. It is what it is; we've showered off tough losses before. We'll get ready for [Tuesday]."