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Pirates' comeback falls short in close loss to Cardinals at PNC Park

| Sunday, May 11, 2014, 11:53 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina turns a game-ending double play with the bases loaded during the ninth inning against the Pirates Sunday, May11, 2014, at PNC Park.

The Pirates waited 18 years between home appearances on ESPN's “Sunday Night Baseball.” For pitcher Charlie Morton, it only seems that long since he last won a game.

The St. Louis Cardinals bested Morton and the Pirates again Sunday, holding on for a 6-5 victory in front of a national television audience. It was the Pirates' first “SNB” game since 1996.

The Pirates scored a run in the ninth and loaded the bases with nobody out against closer Trevor Rosenthal. Ike Davis popped up. Jordy Mercer pounced on a fastball out of the zone and hit it back to Rosenthal to start a game-ending double play.

“It wasn't my pitch to swing at. I got overaggressive,” said Mercer, who hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning. “But it happens. You've got to move on.”

The Pirates have lost each of Morton's past eight starts against the Cardinals — a slump that began in 2011.

Morton (0-5) has not beaten any team since Sept. 2, 2013, when he stopped the Milwaukee Brewers, 5-2, at Miller Park.

That's 14 consecutive starts by Morton without a victory, including a setback against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the NL Divisional Series.

“In 2010, I lost 12 games and threw the ball terrible,” Morton said. “But I learned some valuable lessons. It looks nice to have wins by your name, but that's not what this is about. Wins are good for contract (negotiations) and reaffirming the fact that you don't suck. But the reason we're here is to get wins as a team.”

The funny thing is, most of his performances during this winless skid have been pretty good. Morton has allowed five or more earned runs only three times. He has yielded three or fewer earned runs in nine starts.

“Better things are ahead for him,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

On Sunday, Morton tossed six innings and allowed four runs — only one earned — on seven hits. He walked one and struck out three.

“I really don't have many regrets other than the first inning,” Morton said.

The Cardinals batted around in the first and scored four runs. However, three of the runs were unearned, because of an error by Pedro Alvarez.

With one out, Jhonny Peralta was nicked by an 85 mph changeup. It's the eighth batter Morton has plunked this season. Last year, he hit 16 batters in 20 games.

Matt Holliday it a bouncer toward third base. Alvarez snagged it on the run and tried to force Peralta at second base, but his throw sailed into right field. Peralta went to third on the blunder.

“It was weak contact, and those aren't ideal ground balls to turn double plays,” Morton said. “It's a tough play. I don't expect for him to turn two there.”

Yadier Molina lined a run-scoring single into left field. Matt Adams hit a sacrifice fly. Singles by Jon Jay and Mark Ellis made it 4-0.

“We have a game plan for everyone we face,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “(Morton) has got good stuff. Guys brought him into the part of the plate they were ready for and didn't miss many.”

Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller (5-2) has won five straight decisions, including a pair against the Pirates. He breezed through the first two innings and got out of a bases-loaded jam in the third when Alvarez flew out to the warning track in center field.

The Pirates cut their deficit in half in the fourth.

With one out, Davis walked on a full-count fastball in the dirt. Mercer homered into the left-field bleachers, his first of the season.

Miller threw six consecutive balls to begin the fifth inning. The first four sent Snider to first base. The next two, with Neil Walker at the plate, prompted a visit from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist.

Walks have been irksome this season for Miller, who's issued 23 in 44 23 innings. He's minimized the damage by keeping opponents 2 for 34 with runners in scoring position.

Miller got Walker to fly out but faced a full count against Andrew McCutchen after a passed ball moved Snider to second base. McCutchen walked.

Alvarez popped up. Jose Tabata grounded out. The Pirates stranded six runners and went 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position against Miller, who worked 5 13 innings.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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