Fowler's homers enough for Cards to hold off Pirates
ST. LOUIS — Through the first five series, the Pirates' season has followed an unusual pattern.
The Pirates were swept in their opening three-game set against the Boston Red Sox. Then they swept the Atlanta Braves. They dropped three against the Cincinnati Reds. They won three against the Chicago Cubs.
On Wednesday, the St. Louis Cardinals kept the trend intact by taking their third straight 2-1 victory against the Pirates.
"It's bizarre," John Jaso said. "Such is this game, and such is life. You just keep going, keep moving on to the next one."
Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole laughed when he was told about the swept-sweep sequence.
"I had no idea," Cole said. "We're not really focused on results, at least I'm not. We're trying to stay with the process and grind out one pitch at a time."
Pitching was not the problem against the Cardinals. The Pirates managed hardly any offense against right-hander Michael Wacha (2-1) and three relievers.
The Pirates were held to one or zero runs in three straight games against the same opponent for the first time since July 30-Aug. 1, 2012 — also against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
It's the first time since at least 1913 that the Pirates have dropped three consecutive 2-1 decisions.
"We lost by one run three nights in a row," Cole said. "A hit here or there could've drastically changed the outcome of the series."
All three runs came via solo homers. Dexter Fowler hit a pair off Cole. Josh Bell went deep against Wacha.
With one out in the third inning, Fowler hit his first homer of the season into the Cardinals' bullpen. In the fifth, he launched a first-pitch fastball down the right-field line.
"I haven't had a chance to review the first one," Cole said. "The second one, he's just one step ahead of us, again. Not enough quality. Got to be more convicted. He was all over it."
It was Fowler's fourth career multi-homer game and his first since June 2, 2013 — enough to warrant a curtain call for the crowd at Busch Stadium.
Cole (1-2) worked six innings and gave up six hits, walked two and struck out eight.
"Not enough quality pitches," Cole grumbled.
Manager Clint Hurdle's analysis was a bit more charitable.
"Gerrit was very competitive," Hurdle said. "He used his entire mix of pitches. First-pitch strikes got him in front of people. Curveball played, changeup played. A very good game."
The Pirates' first hit off Wacha was Bell's 410-foot homer in the fourth inning.
Bell went into the game with a .200 batting average and almost as many strikeouts (six) as hits (eight), He had one RBI and a .273 on-base percentage.
Pitchers who attacked Bell all over the zone last year are hammering him with inside fastballs.
"The league has punched back," Hurdle said. "He's been more aggressive, and sometimes it's been unbridled. That's just trying to figure some things out."
Wacha began the at-bat with two balls, the first down and in and the second up and in. After taking an inside fastball for a strike, Bell blasted another fastball that was in the lower half and in the middle of the zone.
In the eighth, a pair of fielding errors helped the Pirates load the bases with two outs against reliever Kevin Siegrist. Gregory Polanco smoked a grounder that was speared by first baseman Matt Carpenter.
"Hard contact," Hurdle said. "(Carpenter) made a major league play. If (Polanco) catches that ball an eighth of an inch lower, the ball's in the air and it's not going to be caught."
Carpenter popped to his feet and beat Polanco to the bag for the third out.
"That saved the game," Fowler said.
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.