PITTSBURGH — The St. Louis Cardinals aren’t hitting at the moment. They’re not panicking either.
A 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of a doubleheader on Tuesday afternoon dropped the Cardinals out of first-place but didn’t exactly send off alarm bells throughout the organization even as their losing streak hit a season-high five games.
“I still think it’s a good team,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “There’s definitely ups and downs and peaks and valleys in every season and this is certainly a down time for us.”
And an up one for the Pirates.
Alex Presley hit a sharp bouncer that deflected off the glove of pitcher Kevin Siegrist (0-1) and away from shortstop Pete Kozma, who was moving toward second base. Kozma could not recover and the ball rolled into the outfield, allowing Russell Martin to sprint all the way home from second base.
With the win, the Pirates leapfrogged St. Louis for the top spot in the division and the best record in baseball, at least for a few hours.
“It’s a battle,” Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett said. “It’s fun. Let’s roll from here. Let’s keep going.”
Vin Mazzaro (6-2) earned the victory, retiring three of four batters he faced in the 11th inning as the Pirates limited the NL’s best offense to just six hits. St. Louis has scored five runs in its last 47 innings and went just 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
“We’ve had a lot of good things happen with guys in scoring position,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We’ve talked about it all year. We had some hard-hit balls with runners in scoring position. It just didn’t work out.”
Lance Lynn was dominant in six innings for the Cardinals but was long gone by the time Presley came through against Siegrist. Lynn struck out seven and walked two while giving up one run on three hits. He needed to be sharp after his teammates failed to provide him with his typical run support.
St. Louis came in averaging 6.49 runs each time Lynn is on the hill but only managed a single run on Matt Holliday’s fielders’ choice off Burnett in the third.
“He was right on, everything he was doing today,” Matheny said of Lynn. “If we keep him doing it the rest of the season we’re going to win a lot of games.”
The Cardinals had a chance to take the lead in the 10th but Matt Holliday hit into his NL-leading 24th double play with two on and one out. St. Louis went just 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
Presley’s slapper capped a 3-hour, 52-minute marathon that had all the makings of playoff baseball. A packed PNC Park — on a Tuesday afternoon no less — buzzed as Burnett and Lynn matched each other for the better part of two hours.
Burnett received a bit of help with two on and one out in the first when center fielder Andrew McCutchen made a diving grab in on a sinking liner by Carlos Beltran. The Gold Glover then hopped to his feet and alertly doubled up Holliday.
Jay struck out swinging leading off the sixth but moved all the way to second when the ball slipped away from Martin, the Pirates’ catcher, and rolled toward the backstop. Martin strolled to pick up the ball, thinking it was foul, allowing Jay to reach second base.
Martin, Burnett and manager Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle began an animated discussion with home plate umpire Eric Cooper that spilled over into Matt Holliday’s at bat. At one point Cooper came out from behind the plate and walked toward Burnett, pointing at the pitcher and yelling.
The call, however, seemed only to fire up Burnett. The emotional ace struck out Holliday got Beltran to fly out to left and knocked down a grounder by Mike Adams before emphatically firing to first to beat the lumbering Adams to the bag to get out of the inning.
The histrionics were even louder in the seventh when Burnett struck out pinch-hitter Allen Craig with the 113th and final pitch of his day.
NOTES: Cardinals CF Jon Jay’s team record for consecutive errorless games ended at 245 when he misplayed a single by Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte in the fifth inning that allowed Marte to advance to second. Jay’s previous error came on Aug. 24, 2011 … St. Louis sent struggling reliever Marc Rzepczynski to Cleveland on Tuesday in exchange for minor league infielder Juan Herrera. Rzepczynski had a 7.84 ERA in 10 1-3 innings this season with the Cardinals … Pirates 2009 first-round pick Tony Sanchez will get his first big-league start at catcher in the nightcap.