ST. LOUIS -- For much of the season, the Pirates' weakness at hitting with men in scoring position, reflective of an admittedly shallow lineup not built to string together many hits, has been obscured by the power show. Home runs have a way of camouflaging those things.
Take the home run out of their equation, and you have Saturday, when the Bucs couldn't follow through on numerous threats and as a result lost, 5-4, to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Oh, Garrett Jones tried his best to return the team to the HR=W formula, but his eagerness short-circuited a ninth-inning rally.
The Bucs had already scored one run -- on a fielder's choice grounder by Andrew McCutchen, which resulted in both his 73rd RBI of the season and an 0-for-5 nationally-televised afternoon -- when St. Louis closer Jason Motte fell behind cleanup hitter Jones 3-and-0, with runners at the corners and one out.
Motte almost appeared to be dodging the hot and left-handed Jones, with Josh Harrison on-deck.
Jones would have none of it. He swung at the 3-and-0 pitch, missing it. Ditto the next two pitches. Harrison's grounder to third then ended the game -- and the Bucs' 1-for-14 performance with men in scoring positron.
"It's your cleanup hitter," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, almost matter-of-factly. "And [he is] as hot as anybody we've got. He might've gotten outside of the strike zone a little bit -- but maybe he doesn't just get the ball in the air to score the runner [from third base]. Maybe he get its on the other side of the fence or in the gap.
"He's your cleanup guy," Hurdle reiterated. "We're going to play the game to win, not be afraid to make a mistake or play on our heels."
The Pirates struggled to overcome two of Erik Bedard's deficits, but ultimately had no answer for Yadier Molina's two-run double in the fifth.
Another golden opportunity had presented itself in the eighth, with singles by Jones and Harrison opening the inning against reliever Mitchell Boggs. Then, Pedro Alvarez and Rod Barajas both struck out, and Michael McKenry flied out to left.
Pirates rookie outfielder Starling Marte was forced out of the game in the bottom of the sixth by what was described as "discomfort on his right side." Marte continued being evaluated as the game progressed, with more information to come.
Pittsburgh's first-inning shovel returned, as Bedard dug a quick hole by having Rafael Furcal begin the game with a double, and Matt Carpenter scored him with a single. Allen Craig also singled with one away, but Bedard avoided further damage by getting David Freese to ground into an inning-ending double play. That would not be the last time the lefty walked on the ledge without a slip.
The Bucs knotted it at 1 in the third when Jordy Mercer's single scored Clint Barmes, who had singled with one away and moved up when Marte was hit by a two-out pitch.
Even as he was again falling behind in the fourth, Bedard somehow managed to swing momentum back in the Pirates' favor -- however briefly. That was because the inning began with a Freese walk, a Molina double, another double by Shane Robinson for two runs and a 3-1 lead, and a Ryan Jackson line drive right up the middle. Except -- Bedard snared the liner and quickly threw to second to double-up Robinson, then fanned Lance Lynn to end the inning.
Riding that gust of momentum. the Bucs immediately re-tied it in the top of the fifth, with Mercer again the central figure. He doubled to cash in Marte's leadoff bunt single. After retiring McCutchen on an infield pop for the first out, Lynn was replaced by southpaw Barret Browning with the lefty-hitting Jones next. Browning undermined St. Louis manager Mike Matheny's strategy by wild pitching Mercer to third, from where he scored on Jones' sacrifice fly to make it 3-3.
Likewise, St. Louis wasted little time regaining the upper hand. Furcal led off the bottom of the fifth with a single, and with one out a single by Craig and a walk to Freese loaded the bases for Molina, who lined his ground-rule double into the right-field-corner seats on Bedard's first pitch to him.
"He'd hit one to left field his last time up, so I thought I'd try something different. Guess it didn't work," Bedard said.
Although Bedard had already allowed eight hits -- matching his season high -- even before the fifth-inning reunion with Molina, Hurdle had a very sound, if optimistic, reason for letting him continue.
"I was hoping for our rotation to stabilize itself," Hurdle explained. "Contemplating taking the starter out three, four times in a week after the fifth inning is not the direction you want to go. So I wanted to make sure our experienced starting pitcher had an opportunity to make a pitch and finish off that inning."
Lynn was able to get eight of his 13 total outs on strikeouts, but the 4 1/3-inning outing was his briefest of 26 big league starts. He allowed four hits and three runs, and also walked three.
Bedard did not see the end of the fifth inning for the fifth time in 13 starts, which has put a considerable compounding strain on the bullpen. In 4 2/3 innings on Saturday, the lefty gave up nine hits and five runs -- the sixth time in that 13-start stretch that he has allowed five-plus -- with three walks and four strikeouts.
Pittsburgh's pitching highlight of the day came from Jared Hughes, who, with a detour to Indianapolis in-between, made his first appearance since last Saturday and retired all seven men he faced in a spotless 2 1/3-inning stint that kept the game close.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.