ST. LOUIS -- Hardly hittable all month, Jose Veras served up a costly 399-foot one on Friday.
Handed a one-run lead and charged with bridging the gap to closer Joel Hanrahan, Veras surrendered a two-run homer to Cardinals right fielder Lance Berkman in the eighth. The go-ahead blast gave the Cardinals their first lead of the game, which they then turned into a 5-4 win at Busch Stadium.
The blown save was Veras' first in 14 appearances this month. He had only been scored upon once in the first 13.
Veras' August results, his ability to stare down the heart of the order multiple times already this season and Hanrahan's recent hiccups convinced manager Clint Hurdle that Veras, not Hanrahan, was the one to turn to in the eighth. St. Louis had Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Berkman lined up to hit in the inning.
All started out OK as Veras struck out Pujols. But a walk to Holliday followed, bringing up Berkman, who was one home run short of reaching 30 for the sixth time in his career.
"Just keep the line moving," Berkman said of his approach against Veras. "You have to, because if you try to get too grandiose, you're going to mess yourself up. Just try to not make an out."
There would be no out. Instead, Berkman achieved a milestone on the first pitch, sending a fastball over the right-field wall.
"It was down, but it was working back to his swing path," Hurdle said of the pitch. "[Berkman's] had a fantastic year. You talk about some shopping in the offseason, what an acquisition he has been."
Veras, through a spokesperson, declined comment on his outing when reporters asked to speak with him after the game.
Berkman's home run cost James McDonald his ninth win of the season. It was the third time in five August starts that McDonald has exited with a lead only to watch the bullpen lose it.
In one of his sharper second-half starts, McDonald was stung only by Yadier Molina's three-run homer in the second. That homer, which followed a leadoff walk and a one-out single, erased the 3-0 lead the Pirates' offense had built up an inning earlier. It was also the last extra-base hit McDonald allowed.
"One pitch, one mistake -- a three-run homer to Molina," McDonald said. "It was a bad pitch, and he made me pay for it."
"I made pitches when I needed to," he said. "I feel like I can let it go when I need to. Overall, physically I feel pretty good."
The right-hander scattered three singles and two walks over his final four-plus innings on the mound. McDonald has now pitched at least six innings in four of his last five outings, though tacking on a seventh frame continues to be a struggle.
He took the mound in the seventh on Friday with a pitch count of 87, but his chances to finish the inning ended when Rafael Furcal led off with a single.
It wasn't so much the pitch count that ushered Hurdle out of the visiting dugout. Rather, with a one-run lead to protect, Hurdle felt it necessary to get someone on the mound who could better hold Furcal closer to first.
"The one piece of the puzzle that we'll have to add for him next spring is better monitoring of the running game," said Hurdle, who would have left McDonald in if he had retired the speedy shortstop. "When Furcal gets on right there, he doesn't have any weapons to stop him."
The ball went to reliever Jason Grilli, who recorded three straight outs to keep McDonald in line for the win.
McDonald still has finished seven innings only once in 2011, though he left an impression in less than that on Friday.
"He's for real," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He's got all the pitches. [Except for] one three-run homer, he shut us down. He's tough. They made a bunch of good moves over there, and picking him up and putting him in the rotation was one of them."
The Pirates wasted no time knocking around opposing starter Jake Westbrook. Each of the first four hitters in the game reached base, and by the end of the inning, three had come home.
RBI singles by Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Doumit pushed across the first pair of runs. Josh Harrison drove home the other with a sacrifice fly.
After the Cardinals tied the game at 3, Jose Tabata gave the Pirates the lead with a two-out double to right in the fourth.
Every Pirates position player reached base at least once during Westbrook's six-inning start. Five of those baserunners were put on with walks. Even Harrison, who had walked just once in his first 124 Major League plate appearances, drew one off Westbrook.
The lack of patience after Harrison's fifth-inning walk, though, stood out as a low point for the offense. After watching Harrison take four pitches out of the strike zone, Ronny Cedeno swung at a first-pitch slider with two outs and the bases loaded. He popped the ball up to left field to kill the run-scoring opportunity.
"A lot of times with runners in scoring position, we're firing too early," Hurdle said. "We have to take better at-bats in those situations."
In Cedeno's previous at-bat, he took a called strike after stepping out of the batter's box, thinking he had been granted time by the home-plate umpire.
The Pirates did not record a hit against the Cardinals' bullpen, which has now pitched six scoreless innings this series.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.