Pirates' hot start fizzles as slide reaches five

Pirates' hot start fizzles as slide reaches five

PITTSBURGH -- After four innings Thursday night at PNC Park, the Cardinals trailed by three runs. Then came the rain and the runs. The Cards rallied for two runs before 72-minute rain delay, scored three more in the seventh inning and added four more in the ninth, sailing to an 11-7 win over the Pirates at PNC Park.

The offensive outburst marked the fourth time in 11 games that the Cardinals scored in double digits. They had previously done so just seven times in 110 games. 

"We really have kind of been focusing on grinding out at-bats -- seeing pitches, putting good swings on balls and really taking our walks," said Tommy Pham, who mashed an impressive home run in the ninth that reached the top level of the rotunda in left field, rare territory at PNC Park. "[It's] kind of the next man up kind of thing."

Statcast: Pham's 111.4-mph homer

According to Statcast™, Pham's homer traveled 440 feet with an exit velocity of 111.4 mph and a 35-degree launch angle; it was the second-longest and second-hardest homer of Pham's career and the hardest homer hit by a Cardinal this season. The call was ruled to stand after a short crew chief review to determine if it was fair or foul.

"Statcast™ has been tough on me this year," said Pham, convinced that the actual distance was greater than 440 feet. "I don't know. They're all counted the same when they go over the fence. That's how I look at it now." 

The Pirates scored five runs in three innings against Adam Wainwright on Josh Harrison's two-run homer in the first inning and three consecutive run-scoring singles with two outs in the third to end the righty's night. But as the rain intensified in the fifth, Jameson Taillon's command seemed to diminish. Paul DeJong and Dexter Fowler each singled home a run, pulling the Cardinals within a run.

Frazier's RBI single

"It's extra frustrating because I felt good. It's not like I felt like I was really grinding or anything," Taillon said. "I felt like it was probably some of the best stuff I've had all year. … Just kind of blinked, and it was four runs."

Fowler's RBI knock

Fowler delivered the big hit in the seventh, lacing a two-run triple to right field off reliever Joaquin Benoit. A non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisition, Benoit has given up nine runs (seven earned) on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings since joining the Pirates.

"The volume of work this year is pretty solid. It's been a short window of opportunity here where the results haven't been as good," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I'm not going to put him under a microscope right now. We've got some things we're trying to monitor and trying to help him figure out so he can be more effective."

Hurdle on loss to Cardinals

Consistency eluding Pirates in Central chase

The Pirates immediately threatened to rally, as Andrew McCutchen doubled and Josh Bell walked to begin the seventh. Then the Cardinals called upon reliever Matt Bowman, who retired the next three batters in order to end the inning.

Bowman escapes a jam

"That was huge," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He's been amazing in that situation [as far as] how he can get the job done. Great job." 

The Cardinals piled on in the ninth and snapped their three-game losing streak, pulling within 1 1/2 games of the National League Central-leading Cubs. The Pirates lost their fifth straight, falling five games under .500 and 5 1/2 back in the division race.

Current standings

Matheny on win over Pirates

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hot off the DL: With two on and one out in the seventh, Fowler fell behind Benoit, 0-2. He took the next three pitches, all below the strike zone, then ripped a 95.2-mph fastball into the right-field corner. The ball eluded Adam Frazier, scoring two runs, and Fowler wheeled around to third. In 10 games since coming off the disabled list, Fowler is 14-for-32 with eight extra-base hits, 11 RBIs and 11 runs scored.

"I feel healthy," Fowler said. "When I came back [from the DL], this is the first time since I went into Spring Training that I feel like I'm healthy. That plays a big part, especially after the [extended] season I had last year. I'm healthy now and feel good." 

No save situation: The Cards carried a two-run lead into the ninth and faced their first potential save situation since Trevor Rosenthal was placed on the disabled list. That situation never presented itself. Pham led off the ninth against Wade LeBlanc with his moonshot home run before Kolten Wong singled home one run and Randal Grichuk tripled home two more to break open a six-run lead.

Grichuk's two-run triple

The insurance proved to be key after the Pirates plated a pair in the bottom of the frame against Seung Hwan Oh.

Freese's RBI double

QUOTABLE
"It's real disappointing because this time of year, what are we, [1 1/2 games] back? This is usually when I go. In my whole career, this is when I take off and pitched some really good baseball. It's hard for me to look my guys in the face and tell them that I'm sorry it just wasn't as good as it needed to be." -- Wainwright, who will head back to St. Louis for additional tests after feeling continued discomfort in his pitching arm

Wainwright on start vs. Pirates

"Not in my recollection, the seven years that I've been here." -- Hurdle, on if he's ever seen a homer hit to the top level of the left-field rotunda, where Pham's solo shot reached

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• With a man on first in the first inning, Wainwright hung a 65.5-mph curveball up in the zone, and Harrison blasted it into the left-field seats for his 13th home run. According to Statcast™, it was the fifth-slowest pitch hit for a home run this season and the slowest not thrown by knuckleballers Steven Wright and R.A. Dickey. Given the low exit velocity (92.3 mph) and high launch angle (37 degrees), Statcast™ projected Harrison's homer had only a 5 percent hit probability.

Jedd Gyorko's second-inning homer to left off Taillon had a hit probability of 1 percent, according to Statcast™. The ball came off his bat at 95 mph with a 45-degree launch angle and traveled a projected 346 feet. It was the first time this season, and just the third time in the last three years, that anyone in the Majors has hit a homer with a 1 percent hit probability.

Gyorko's solo home run

WHAT'S NEXT
Cardinals: On the heels of two consecutive quality starts, Carlos Martinez will return to the mound on Friday to face the Pirates in a 6:05 p.m. CT game at PNC Park. Key for Martinez will be getting through the first inning without so much difficulty. He has a 6.75 ERA in the opening frame this season.

Pirates: Right-hander Trevor Williams will start for the Pirates on Friday as they continue their four-game series against the Cardinals at 7:05 p.m. ET at PNC Park. Williams has posted a 3.62 ERA over his past 17 starts. He is coming off an unusual outing in Toronto in which he allowed four runs (three earned) on four hits and four walks while striking out seven over six innings.

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Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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