Alvarez shines, but Bucs fall to Cards

Alvarez shines, but Bucs fall to Cards

ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates pitted current momentum against season-long trend at Busch Stadium on Monday and, to the team's dismay, the latter trumped all that momentum.

On the heels of an uplifting seven-win homestand, the Pirates were haunted by their road reality. Already the most jarring figure in a lost season, the club's road record sank further -- to 15-60 -- as the Pirates twice lost leads in falling to the Cardinals, 6-4.

St. Louis kept its slim playoff hopes alive with the victory. And with the loss, the Pirates assured themselves of finishing with fewer road wins than any other team in franchise history to play an 81-game road schedule.

The 1985 team held the previous low with a total of 22. Even if the Pirates were to win out through the end of the year -- a highly unlikely occurrence given the club's track record -- they could only reach 21.

"We were right there," manager John Russell said, as has been his mantra after a number of the recent road losses. "We just couldn't find a way to get the big hit and put it away."

On a night when Pedro Alvarez did everything in his power to steal the show, the outcome hinged on two key seventh-inning plays.

The Pirates came to bat in the top of the frame, having just watched Matt Holliday launch Charlie Morton's knee-high changeup into the seats for a two-run homer. That tied the game at 4.

"I wanted it to go a little more inside," Morton said afterward. "It just didn't do anything. It stayed there for him, and he did what he does."

But Pittsburgh appeared poised to answer back.

The Pirates used a pair of one-out walks and a single to load the bases against Cardinals reliever Dennys Reyes. It was to be John Bowker's turn next, though Russell opted to play the matchup.

Wanting to match a right-handed bat against the left-handed pitcher, Russell called Bowker off the on-deck circle. He chose to send up Andy LaRoche, who had just one hit in his previous 22 pinch-hit appearances, in Bowker's place.

Why LaRoche over the plethora of other bench options, including switch-hitters Ryan Doumit and Delwyn Young?

"Ryan and Delwyn aren't as efficient versus left-handed pitchers," Russell explained. "Andy got a big sac fly for us [on Sunday], and he's feeling better at the plate. We tried to match up the best way he could."

LaRoche stepped up with a .259 average against lefties. Doumit's season average is .188, while Young has gone 7-for-21 against southpaws.

Continuing his woes as a pinch-hitter, LaRoche grounded into an inning-ending double play.

"It would have been nice to push a run across there -- at least one, maybe more," Russell said. "We couldn't do it."

From there, it spiraled.

Sean Gallagher issued a leadoff single in the bottom half of the inning, though he rebounded to retire the next two hitters before inducing a routine, albeit short, ground ball to shortstop Ronny Cedeno. A good throw away from ending the inning, Cedeno sailed the ball over the head of first baseman Garrett Jones. The Cardinals scored the go-ahead run.

"I've got to make that play," said Cedeno, who has committed an error in three straight games. "It cost us the game. I have to be better than that."

He further explained, too, why he made the throw from an unnatural three-quarters arm slot.

"I didn't get a good route or get in a good position to field the ball," he said. "I was coming in, and the guy can run. I'm trying to make the play, but it was bad."

The Cardinals tacked on a run in the eighth on a wild pitch -- though replays show Chan Ho Park's pitch actually hit Jon Jay in the foot -- to seal their come-from-behind win.

"You keep getting after it and trying to grind out at-bats, and we were able to get some runs," Holliday said.

The Pirates' seventh-inning woes ruined a big game for Alvarez, who began his night with a 427-foot solo homer. He doubled and scored in his next at-bat, and keyed a two-run fifth with a two-out single. At the time, that hit put Pittsburgh ahead by two.

Alvarez extended his hitting streak to seven games with the three-hit night. He has 13 hits and 15 RBIs during that span.

"I'm just glad I've been putting some good pieces on some good balls," Alvarez said. "This game has slowed down a lot more. I'm just learning how to play this game at this next level."

Morton finished with a no-decision in an outing where he wiggled out of trouble from the get-go. The right-hander used two double plays and a timely outfield putout to limit the Cardinals to two runs in his first five innings. The home run in the sixth, though, cost him the chance to stay in line for his third win of the year.

"The two main guys on their team beat him," Russell said, referencing Holliday and Albert Pujols, who drove in all four runs Morton allowed. "Those two guys are going to beat a lot of guys."

The biggest step forward for Morton, as cited by both the right-hander and Russell, was that he buckled down after Holliday's home run. Ensuring that the game wouldn't get out of hand while he was still on the mound, Morton retired three straight to end the sixth.

"I feel like instead of finishing a game and being confused by what happened -- and frustrated in general -- well, now I know," Morton said. "I made a stupid pitch. I didn't execute."

The Pirates have still won just four road games since the All-Star break and only two since July 28. Now, the club must win at least half of its remaining six games to avoid matching the 1963 Mets' 17-64 road record, the worst by any Major League team playing a 162-game schedule.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.