Pirates drop opener to Cardinals

Pirates drop opener to Cardinals

PITTSBURGH -- The mystery that is Oliver Perez remains great.

A few bad outings. Then a string of three brilliant ones. Another regression. And then a start like Perez delivered in Tuesday night's 2-1 loss at PNC Park, where he held the Cardinals to just two runs over seven innings.

It's been the tale of the Pirates most enigmatic starter's season. And though his showing was far from enough on a career night from St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter, the story was Perez's return to the form that made him so dominant just two weeks ago.

And, of course, two years ago, but the Pirates will gladly take the recent Perez back. Not the one with the eight losses or the one who is coming off a start on Wednesday in Colorado in which he allowed nine runs in just two innings, but the Perez who chained together three straight brilliant showings in May.

"Hopefully this is the start of something again to a string of performances that are very similar to the one we witnessed tonight," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said.

The one on Tuesday saw Perez with a precise command that has oft-eluded him, throwing 77 of his 110 pitches for strikes and persistently finding himself ahead of Cardinals hitters.

"He did a great job," Tracy said.

"I'm happy," Perez said. "I just try and do my job, but what's more important is we lost the game."

That was because of Carpenter, who tossed a career-high thirteen strikeouts as he held the Bucs scoreless on three hits over seven innings. Only twice did a Pirate reach second base against him. That's how dominant Carpenter was.

"You've got to tip your hat," Sean Casey said. "It was one of those nights where we got beat by a better pitcher."

But it comes as nothing new. The Bucs have always been stifled by the right-handed reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. Entering Tuesday's game Carpenter was an astounding 7-1 against Pittsburgh with a 2.66 ERA, including a two-hit shutout and two wins earlier this season against the Pirates.

Still, Tracy said this showing was one of the two best he's seen this year and "by far and away" the top one Carpenter has delivered against the Bucs.

Mixing a slider and curveball with his cut fastball, all of which he commanded flawlessly, Carpenter had the Pirates off balance all night.

"That's why he's a Cy Young Award winner," Casey said. "He had that kind of stuff tonight. He had every pitch working. When you've got a guy like Chris Carpenter doing that to you, you see some of the swings we took."

"You can't say much about tonight," Freddy Sanchez said. "He did what he's capable of doing every night and he pretty much shut us down."

Perez did much of the same to a Cardinals offense that came in ranked second in the league, never letting his club lose sight of the Redbirds. And that was all Tracy could ask for.

"You knew for a fact that you couldn't surrender too much," he said. "And Oliver did exactly that."

Enough so to where the Bucs looked poised to draw the game even in their last at-bats. Down 2-0 and facing the league's save leader in Jason Isringhausen, the Pirates went to work.

"[That] was our best chance. Trying to steal it in the ninth," Casey said.

Jason Bay led off with a strikeout, and Joe Randa followed with a single and Sanchez with a double down the left-field line. Craig Wilson then drove in Randa with a deep fly out to center field, but Ronny Paulino struck out looking to close the game.

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Bucs.

Disappointment, sure, but Tracy was more than pleased with what he saw tonight. A terrifically pitched game that someone had to lose, said Tracy.

"It was a great ballgame," he said. "Tough ballgame to lose, but a great ballgame."

And for Perez, hopefully the start of something great.

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.