ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates and Cardinals swapped places in the National League Central standings on Wednesday night as two clubs going in drastically opposing directions.
Pittsburgh vaulted past St. Louis and into second place with its seventh consecutive victory, this one a 7-5 win at Busch Stadium. For the Cardinals, the loss stung arguably more than any other this season. Not only did they waste a four-run lead, but the Cards did so after watching All-Star second baseman Matt Carpenter leave with a right oblique injury.
"The test is that we're just not playing the kind of baseball we want to play," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's it. We're going to have guys go down. You never want to see it happen. You want to get them back as quick as you can. But when it happens, somebody else has to step up. Right now, we're just fighting to get a good feel."
The Cardinals, led by Aledmys Diaz's 3-for-5, two-RBI night, built a lead against Pirates starter Jeff Locke, who surrendered four runs as the Cardinals batted around in the fourth. Most of those contributions came from players subbing for others who are injured. Fill-in first baseman Jedd Gyorko drove in one, as did Carpenter's replacement, Kolten Wong. Greg Garcia, starting in place of an injured Jhonny Peralta, singled and scored.
"They're a great team. We're a great team, too," Locke said. "That's why you see them neck and neck with us."
But Pittsburgh battled back against an unsettled Cardinals bullpen to improve to 8-4 against St. Louis this season. Holding a 5-1 lead, Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia walked the first two batters he faced in the sixth. That prompted Garcia's exit; Josh Harrison and Sean Rodriguez followed with RBI singles off reliever Matt Bowman. Jung Ho Kang's two-run double an inning later sealed the comeback win.
"We always think positive and keep our heads up," Kang said through interpreter H.K. Kim. "That's what we did today and the past couple days."
The surging Pirates have won 10 of their last 12 to shave 5 1/2 games off the Cubs' divisional lead. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have lost 10 straight home games to teams with records above .500.
"It's been a rough stretch all season for us," said Wong. "We've had our ups and downs. It just hasn't been consistent for us. You just have to learn how to flush it down and basically understand that we have another half season left."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Comeback kids: Down 5-1 after four innings, the Pirates may have had the Cardinals right where they wanted them. Rodriguez homered in the fifth and slapped an RBI single to right in a two-run sixth, then Kang delivered the go-ahead hit, a two-run double to right-center off Jonathan Broxton in the Bucs' three-run seventh.
"To come back and win a ballgame here, down 5-1, that doesn't happen very often," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Everybody's throwing something in." More >
Concern for Carpenter: Carpenter, the Cardinals' best offensive player over the first half, had to exit the game after suffering a right oblique strain on a third-inning, checked swing. The Cardinals sent Carpenter away for further tests, the results of which had not returned by the end of the game. The club expects to learn overnight the severity of the injury. Carpenter has been the offense's catalyst over the first half, and he was to be the team's lone representative at next week's All-Star Game presented by MasterCard.
"I have a high level of concern," Matheny said. "I've felt that injury, and I've seen it. It can be tough. But we're not going to make conclusions until we hear from people who know what they're talking about." More >
What, no ovation? Recognized with a standing ovation in each of his first four games at his former home ballpark, a response the former Cardinal humbly called "almost embarrassing," David Freese received no such welcome when he stepped to the plate in the first inning. With no applause to wait out, Freese wasted little time as he slammed Garcia's first pitch over the left-center-field fence for his ninth home run of the season.
Where's the relief? The Cardinals' bullpen has been in flux since Trevor Rosenthal was removed from the closer's role and left-handed setup man Kevin Siegrist was placed on the disabled list. The shuffling has led to some unsettled roles, and that was evident on Wednesday. Bowman, pitching in the sort of fireman role that used to belong to Seth Maness, came on in the sixth with the Cardinals nursing a 5-2 lead. He allowed two inherited runners to score. Broxton took the loss by giving up three seventh-inning runs.
"At the moment, it's a little disappointing," Bowman said. "You come in a situation with guys on base, and I let the guys score. So it doesn't sit terribly well with me." More >
Getting defensive: Though he wasn't able to take advantage of it, Locke said he received a "mulligan" in the first inning when Rodriguez made a sensational play in right field to rob Holliday of extra bases. Racing toward the warning track, Rodriguez reached out his glove and fell as he caught the ball, helping Locke through a scoreless first inning.
Rodriguez has been a true super-utility man this season, playing seven positions and starting at six of them.
"He's the best non-starter defender in the league, from my perspective," Hurdle said. "When he starts, he's above-average wherever you put him. The defense he throws out there is crazy good. I can't say any more than that."
"The bullpen's been incredible. That's tremendous. To hand the ball over to those guys -- you'd like to go further into the game than that, but every day can't be Christmas, I guess." -- Locke, on the relievers who followed his four innings
"It's been a tough week for us, but at the same time, it's a long season. We're hoping to get those guys back soon and will just continue to battle and to grind. " -- Garcia, on the slew of injuries that have beset the Cardinals over the past week
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Wednesday's loss was the Cardinals' 26th at home this season, matching their season total from a year ago. The club's 18 home wins rank 26th in the Majors, ahead of only Oakland, Los Angeles (AL), Arizona and Atlanta.
The Pirates, 9-19 in June, are the only undefeated team (6-0) in July. All six of those wins have been comebacks, their longest streak of come-from-behind victories since June 11-16, 1983.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
A successful challenged helped the Cardinals turn a two-run fourth into a four-run inning. After a one-minute, 35-second review, it was determined that Wong slid into first to beat out a bunt single. He had initially been ruled as the third out of the inning. By reversing the call, the Cardinals scored one run. Diaz followed with another two-out RBI hit to increase the lead to 4-1.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates:Pirates top prospectTyler Glasnow will make his Major League debut when the Pirates and Cardinals wrap up their four-game series at 12:45 p.m. ET on Thursday at Busch Stadium. Glasnow was 7-2 with a 1.78 ERA, 113 strikeouts and 52 walks in 96 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis.
Cardinals: The Cardinals will close out their final homestand of the first half with Thursday's matinee game against Pittsburgh. It will be Adam Wainwright's 26th career start vs. the Pirates, against whom he is 11-7 with a 4.30 career ERA. With a victory, he would move into sole possession of seventh place on the franchise's all-time wins list.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.