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STL@PIT: Tabata launches a two-run tater to right

PITTSBURGH -- Seven times this season the Pirates have taken the first two games in a three-game home series.

And now seven times they've missed out on a sweep by dropping the third.

Included in that bunch was Wednesday's affair against St. Louis, which turned into a career night for Cardinals outfielder Allen Craig. St. Louis jumped out to an early advantage and rode that to a 7-2 victory over the Pirates in front of 22,296 fans at PNC Park.

"He came in and had a big night," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Craig, who watched two of his career-high four hits leave the ballpark. "When you get that kind of production from a part-time player, it always adds a little fuel to your team."

Fuel was added, too, by the fact that the Cardinals very much needed this win. Having fallen seven games behind Milwaukee in the division, St. Louis was on the verge of being swept in a three-game series for the first time since June.

The Pirates played from behind almost immediately. Paul Maholm threw 30 pitches in the first inning, and St. Louis enjoyed a 3-0 lead by the end of it. A leadoff single began things before Craig reached for a 3-2 pitch well off the plate.

Maholm didn't immediately turn around to look, thinking it was merely a routine fly ball. The ball ended up carrying all the way over the center-field wall.

"To me, it was a bad pitch and wasn't one of those that gets out on a regular occasion," Maholm said. "The last few weeks here, if you hit it well, the ball is flying a little bit more than I've seen it in my six years."

In the 10 games played at PNC Park this month, teams have combined for 32 home runs.

The Cardinals padded their first-inning lead with a two-out RBI single from Yadier Molina. In all, Maholm gave up five hits in the frame.

"I wasn't able to make a couple pitches and get out of it," said Maholm, who has allowed a team-high 18 first-inning runs. "That, to me, sums up my last month or so."

Maholm kept the Cardinals relatively quiet through the next four innings, scattering three hits and working around a pair of leadoff doubles. But his night ended there. Despite having needed just 53 pitches to get from the second through the fifth, Maholm was told not to bat in his spot in the bottom of the fifth.

With a runner on second, no outs and a three-run deficit, Hurdle sent Steve Pearce up to pinch-hit.

"The maximum he is going to go is one more inning," Hurdle said, pointing out Maholm's overall pitch count of 83. "The command wasn't as sharp as we had seen from him in the past. At this point in the season, risk versus reward wasn't there. We were trying to generate some offense as well."

Maholm was visibly disgusted by the decision. He chose his words carefully afterward, though his body language in the dugout was that of someone who felt he should have been given the chance to pitch deeper.

He was asked if he was surprised by Hurdle's decision.

"Surprised? No. Not happy about it? Yes," Maholm said. "Obviously, I want to keep going and do whatever I can to help the team win. They thought otherwise. I understand. I try and look at it both ways. They know I always want to stay in the game. I thought after the first I did a decent job. It was their decision, and I've got to live with it."

Still winless since returning from the All-Star break, Maholm (6-14) has not pitched past the fifth in either of his last two starts. His second-half ERA sits at 5.75.

That 3-0 deficit was never erased, though the Pirates narrowed it with the help of a two-run homer from Jose Tabata in the fifth.

"To drive a ball out of this ballpark into the seats in right field, that gets your attention," Hurdle said. "Those are the things that you like to see from Jose."

Tabata is 2-for-8 with a walk since rejoining the club on Tuesday.

"I'm very excited for my swing because I [could] help my team in the game today," said Tabata, who also made his first career start in right field in the game. "I've had to focus, because everything is different when you [are in] the Minor Leagues and then you face the Major League guy. You have to be more focused. I'm trusting myself."

The Pirates otherwise pieced together few run-scoring opportunities against Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse. The Pirates' best chance to push across additional runs came back in the first, when they loaded the bases with two out. Ryan Ludwick lined a ball to right, but Craig made a lunging grab on the run to end the threat.

"I did get a good jump on it," Craig said. "It was a big play. You have to be able to contribute offensively and defensively."

Pittsburgh put only one other runner -- that being Ronny Cedeno in the fifth -- in scoring position against Lohse the rest of the night. Lohse struck out seven in seven innings.

"When I'm successful, I get ahead of guys and just come right at them," Lohse said. "It's not going to happen every time like that, but when you're getting ahead of guys and making them swing at your pitches, you're usually going to have more success than not."

The Cardinals extended their 3-2 lead with a pair of runs, only one of which was earned, during Brad Lincoln's two-inning relief appearance. The second came off Craig's second homer.

St. Louis tacked on two more in the eighth. Garrett Jones and Brandon Wood committed errors in the frame.

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