Yet Monday night's defeat hit the Pirates hard in the standings, where they now trail St. Louis by three games for second place in the National League Central and, more importantly, for a Wild Card spot. But it might have dealt them a bigger hit in the psyche, because they finally jumped into a lead and put it in their surest hands.
This time, A.J. Burnett was unable to do his shutdown thing. The 2-0 lead he'd been given over Kyle Lohse in the fourth was a 4-2 deficit by the time rain in the top of the sixth interrupted the game and ended his night.
"I was on a roll," Burnett said, alluding to having one-hit the NL's top offensive club through four innings, "and got a shutdown inning that I take so much pride in and was unable to do it.
"So it just bothers me. Our guys scored a couple of runs, and I need to go out there and shut the door, and that wasn't the case."
"It does hurt," manager Clint Hurdle said. "That's been one of [Burnett's] strengths most of the season. Shutdown innings ... he's been as good at it as anyone in the game. This one got away from us."
The raindrops may have barely beaten St. Louis' bats to shortening Burnett's stay. He had already surrendered the two tiebreaking runs -- on Matt Holliday's solo homer and Yadier Molina's sacrifice fly -- in the sixth when the wet stuff halted play with two outs.
When the game resumed 34 minutes later, Jared Hughes replaced Burnett. In the bottom of the inning, Lohse gave way to Lance Lynn.
Teams rarely rue the forced departure of 13-game winners. This turned into one of those times, particularly after five relievers had combined to throttle the Bucs on four hits in the last four innings.
The Pirates had that many against Lohse in the fourth inning alone.
"If it hadn't been for the rain, maybe we would've had another crack at him," said Andrew McCutchen, who drove in one of the runs off Lohse with the first of his two singles.
Clint Barmes' RBI double into the right-field corner with one out in the seventh made it 4-3 and chased Lynn, but Fernando Salas came in to strand that potential tying run on second. After Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski chipped in, Jason Motte got the final four outs for his 31st save.
This started out as a rare duel between two pitchers among the NL's top three in winning percentage -- Lohse led at .867, Burnett was third at .789 -- and they ruled at the outset. Between them, they allowed one hit through 3 1/2 innings.
Burnett allowed seven hits and four runs (three earned) in his 5 2/3 innings, with one walk and three strikeouts. In his five, Lohse gave up five hits and two runs, also striking out three without a walk.
For the seventh time in nine games, the Pirates were held scoreless through at least the first three innings. Such offensive lethargy contradicts the knee-jerk criticism that the starting pitchers have been too permissive by continually allowing the opposition to score first. You can bail water for only so long before the boat sinks.
This time, Lohse was the first to take on water. The Bucs bunched four hits, a rarity for them, in the fourth inning for a pair of runs. Singles by Jose Tabata, Travis Snider and McCutchen -- claiming his 79th RBI -- plated one. After Pedro Alvarez singled to load the bases, Josh Harrison's sacrifice fly made it 2-0.
The Cardinals came right back at Burnett with a tying rally in the fifth that was kept from being more only by another defensive gem from Harrison.
The Redbirds apparently take as much pride in bounce-back rallies as Burnett does in shutdown innings. St. Louis won this round.
"All the chatter that's going on in the dugout is: Answer right back," said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny. "If something happens, come right back and do the exact same thing. The guys did a nice job of that today."
Molina led off with a single and went home on a double by Skip Schumaker, who scored the tying run as Lohse bounced a single a few inches over Burnett's reach and through a drawn-in infield.
Of the two pitches on which Burnett second-guessed himself, the fastball hit by his mound opponent was one.
"Maybe if I hadn't shaken off [catcher] Rod [Barajas] -- he wanted the hook, and I went with the heater and left the ball up a little," Burnett said. "I made a few mistakes -- that was one, another was the ball up to [Matt] Holliday.
"The other was the ball up to Holliday [for the go-ahead home run]. Two bad pitches at the wrong time."
Matt Carpenter followed Lohse's RBI single with a two-out double to center that briefly looked like a go-ahead blow -- until Lohse turned too wide around the third-base bag, leaving him vulnerable for the McCutchen-to-Harrison-to-Barajas relay, which did get him.
"I'm glad it was the pitcher [running]," Hurdle said. "Kyle was running as hard as he could, I know he was. But that's a play you don't count on your pitcher to score. I hoped it would give us a little spark."