The Pirates were just 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position on Sunday. They stranded runners at third with one out or fewer three times, including putting men on second and third with one out in the eighth, and stranding both of them. Twice Pittsburgh led off the inning with a single and failed to score.
Hurdle's club also outhit St. Louis, 12-9. It was just the fifth time this season the Pirates lost when outhitting their opponents. For a team that led the Major Leagues with 146 runs scored in June, leaving men on the bases was a change of pace.
"You knew the monster was going to wake some time," Pirates catcher Michael McKenry said. "We held them the last two days, and today they came out and swung the bat really well. When we had opportunities, we didn't overcome them."
Pittsburgh took a one-run lead into the fifth, but Shane Robinson's two-out single off Pirates starter Erik Bedard gave the Cardinals a one-run lead that they wouldn't relinquish. The Pirates, however, remained one game behind the first-place Reds in the National League Central, after Cincinnati fell to San Francisco.
The Cardinals scored first on a solo shot by Yadier Molina in the second inning and added two more in the third on a two-run homer by Allen Craig. In the fifth, Matt Holliday hit an RBI double that one hopped the left-field wall to tie the game at 4 before Robinson put the Cards ahead.
"They had some opportunistic at-bats, a couple of soft pitches [Bedard] left up in the zone got hit hard," Hurdle said. "It wasn't his best day. He gave everything he had, and it was a little short."
Bedard recorded his 1,000th career strikeout by fanning Holliday in the first, but he otherwise didn't have much to be pleased with. The left-hander lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing five earned runs on eight hits. Bedard's ERA has risen to 4.57 -- the highest it's been all season -- and he's allowed eight hits in three of his last six starts.
All of Pittsburgh's runs came in the fourth against Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook. Drew Sutton brought in a run with a double to score Neil Walker before McKenry tied the game with one swing on a three-run shot. McKenry drove the first pitch of the at-bat 421 feet to left-center.
McKenry has been a sparkplug for Pittsburgh's offense in the absence of Rod Barajas this week. Barajas, who sustained a bone bruise in his left knee against Philadelphia on Monday, has played in one game since getting injured. McKenry extended his hitting streak to six games on Sunday and is 11-for-25 with three homers and nine RBIs over that span.
"I've just been working on my fundamentals and trying to get better every single day," McKenry said. "Just having to catch some breaks and get some balls that I can handle."
Hurdle had praised McKenry for putting in extra work behind the plate, doing his research and making the effort to get on the same page with Pirates starters before each start. That McKenry is also generating serious power from the bottom of the lineup is just an added plus.
"He's up there swinging," Hurdle said of McKenry. "He's not trying to be perfect with it, he's looking for a ball he can handle and really trying to fire to the backside of it and have some fun while he's up there."
Marc Rzepczynski, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte combined to allow three hits over three innings of scoreless relief after Westbrook's six innings. Boggs used a sinker to get McKenry to pop up for the second out, and Motte entered the game to get Josh Harrison to fly out to end the threat, en route to a four-out save.
"He's a guy that's been swinging the bat pretty hot in this series," Boggs said of McKenry. "He's going to be aggressive. For me it was just to make aggressive pitches. I knew he wasn't going to hold anything back. I just wanted to sink the ball in on him, keep the ball down, try to make a pitch right there to keep the runner at third."
The Pirates were without All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen for just the fourth game this season. McCutchen sprained his left wrist on Saturday and is day to day. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who was 4-for-11 with eight RBIs in the series, exited the game in the eighth inning for precautionary reasons due to cramps in his right leg.
While the sweep would have been nice, Hurdle said he was still pleased with the way his club rebounded from a rough start to its road trip. The Pirates followed up back-to-back losses in Philadelphia with four straight wins and fell perhaps just one clutch hit shy of making it five straight.
"We came in here and battled, so it was a trip that we had to meet the challenge, and we did," Hurdle said. "You'd like to do more, obviously. We had opportunities throughout that game to score more runs. But guys were resilient, and we kept getting out there."