Pirates drop third straight game to Cardinals

Pirates drop third straight game to Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- The road to the National League pennant often goes through this gateway city. It certainly did last season, when the Pirates were run off the road in the NL Division Series.

Given that assignment, one can wonder whether Busch Stadium is getting into the heads of the Bucs, who dropped another one to the Cards on Wednesday, 5-2.

"Not enough on offense," manager Clint Hurdle said after the Pirates were held to six scattered hits by Lance Lynn and three relievers. "You've got to give their pitchers credit, but we have to find a way to plate those guys when we get them out there."

Finding a way to win when they get here is most important. The Bucs have dropped the first three installments of this four-game series, five of six here this season and 13 of 18 the past two years (including the 2013 NLDS).

"We're not uncomfortable playing here," Hurdle asserted. "We feel we can play here. We're going to keep showing up and playing."

Interestingly, the Pirates are the same 4 1/2 games behind in the NL Central that they were when they arrived.

Of course, that also means they are the only team that has been unable to take advantage of the division-leading Brewers' three straight losses to the Phillies, which bunched up the standings.

Cincinnati, the Bucs' next stop, and St. Louis both breathe down Milwaukee's necks, each two games behind.

Given the tenor of the first three games of this set, it is worth remembering how evenly the Bucs have played the defending NL champs since the start of the 2013 season. In fact, the teams took the field on Wednesday night not only having split their last 30 regular-season games but with each having scored 125 runs in the process.

Matt Adams, Monday night's hero for the Cardinals, set Wednesday's tone by ripping a two-run double off Brandon Cumpton in the first inning, giving the Redbirds a lead they never relinquished.

Lynn threw 110 pitches in 6 2/3 innings and added to the Pirates' frustration with men in scoring position.

Neil Walker scored both of Pittsburgh's runs, the first on his 12th homer of the season -- which extended his hitting streak to 11 games -- but had little help.

After going 0-for-17 with RISP in the first two games, the Bucs went 2-for-8 in this one.

However, one of the two was a grounder by Jordy Mercer that handcuffed third baseman Matt Carpenter with two outs in the fourth, becoming an infield single that scored Walker from third. The other was a Chris Stewart bunt, misplayed by Lynn into a single that did not even advance the runner on second base.

Cumpton's return turned into the briefest of his 15-start career. It wasn't nearly as scarring as when he allowed 11 runs to the Dodgers on May 31, when the Pirates' bullpen needed a break and Cumpton toughed it out for 3 2/3 innings. In 3 1/3 innings on Wednesday, he allowed nine hits and four runs.

Most disappointing was the run he let in on Matt Holliday's RBI single in the fourth -- after the Pirates had crept within a run in the top of the inning on Mercer's aforementioned infield hit. Worse, Holliday's hit plated Lynn, the .031-hitting pitcher who had been given a one-out walk.

"Falling behind. Leaving balls up," Cumpton said of his difficulties. "Left that one up to Adams. Then Holliday had a good [11-pitch] at-bat. I was always one pitch away and kept throwing it, and he kept fouling it off. He put up a battle and came through.

"I can't walk the pitcher. I walked three guys. and two of them scored. If I don't walk those guys, we're in the ballgame."

Kolton Wong, who ended Tuesday night's game with his own walk-off homer, extended the Cardinals' lead to three runs with a solo shot in the seventh off Justin Wilson.

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.