Offensive opportunities were stolen away in the top half of the inning, highlighted by a diving catch from St. Louis center fielder Rick Ankiel. And any momentum Bucs starter Ian Snell built from a 1-2-3 first was shattered as the Cardinals chipped away for five runs.
All combined, what was poised to be a potentially cushioned Pirates lead morphed into a daunting deficit by the time that 71st pitch was thrown. Ultimately, the early turn of events proved to be enough to send the Pirates reeling to their fourth loss in six games, this one, a 7-4 defeat in front of 43,462 fans.
"Take away the five-run inning," Pirates manager John Russell said, "and it's a totally different game."
If only that were an option.
The turn of the calendar page did nothing to turn the page on Snell's recent results. The right-hander allowed six runs in four innings and suffered his fifth straight loss. He hasn't won since April 12, and has an ERA now of 5.94.
Despite the run total and the fact that the Pirates felt a number of balls and strikes calls didn't go their way, Snell preferred to look at the outing as a step in the right direction.
"I'm back in form," he said. "It's just bad luck. That's how I see it. I have bad luck right now."
Luck could be part of it, but the reality is that during this tumultuous stretch for Snell, his demise has come primarily from one bad inning. On Sunday, that inning was the five-run second.
But before that Cardinals damage would be done, there were opportunities lost in the top half of the second.
It started with a walk to Jason Bay before Xavier Nady launched Braden Looper's 3-1 pitch to straightaway center, an extra-base hit appearing imminent. But on a full sprint toward center, his head cocked to his left, Ankiel laid out to making a diving catch.
"That was an unbelievable play," Pirates third baseman Jose Bautista said. "By far the best one I've seen all year."
Two singles would follow, including a run-scoring hit by Bautista, to give the Pirates an early 1-0 cushion. However, Ankiel's highlight-reel catch left the Pirates wondering what might have been, as it cost them at least one run.
"We hit some balls hard and they made some good plays on us," Russell said. "It's just one of those things."
With an opportunity stolen away, the Pirates then endured the wrath of a St. Louis lineup that had been held at bay by Pittsburgh starters over the previous two days. Balls weren't hit hard, but they fall where the defense wasn't, that fact proved inconsequential.
In the span of the first five hitters, Snell allowed four singles and a walk. An RBI groundout followed before Skip Schumaker's single drove in two more.
"I made good pitches," Snell said. "They put the ball in play and good things happened to them."
That second inning not only gave the Cardinals a 5-1 lead, but it also marked the third time in the last four games that Snell has allowed at least three runs in an inning. In all, he's now done so in half of his 12 starts.
Snell did come out to pitch the fifth, but, after issuing a leadoff walk, his day would end after a mechanical problem with the batter's eye in center field caused a 13-minute delay.
The black screen, which scrolls through advertisements in between innings, was stuck on a bright Ford ad with the Cardinals up to bat. The delay forced Snell to have to sit too long in the dugout to warrant returning to the field.
In other words, more bad luck.
"I want to [come back out]," Snell said. "But they told me I had a lot of pitches already and, just to be safe, to stay in and not go out and risk anything."
As a result, Snell would settle for his second four-inning start of the season. Four times already Snell has been unable to pitch past the fifth inning after doing so just four times in 32 starts last season.
"Take away the five-run inning, his fastball had a lot of zip on it, the slider had good movement on it," Russell said. "It was one of the better games as far as stuff went."
From there, the Pirates and Cardinals traded runs the rest of the afternoon, though Pittsburgh was again the victim of some phenomenal defensive plays by St. Louis. Two stellar infield plays in the fifth limited the Pirates to just one run in what was set up to be another potentially fruitful inning.
The Bucs actually brought the potential tying run to the plate in the ninth. With two runners on, Doug Mientkiewicz watched a 3-0 count go to 3-2 before hitting a lazy fly ball to end the game on what appeared to be ball four.
Bautista, who was 3-for-4 with two RBIs on the day, was left standing on deck.
"We felt like we didn't catch a couple breaks on some calls," Bautista said, "and we ended up not being able to finish them off."
The Pirates left 11 men on base in all and went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less