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Morton exits early in Pirates' loss to Cardinals

| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 3:39 p.m.
Reuters
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker trips over the Cardinals Matt Holliday (left) while trying to turn a double play during the first inning Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) is taken out of the game with an undisclosed injury by manager Clint Hurdle in the second inning against the Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
The Pirates' Neil Walker (cener) forces out the Cardinals' Matt Holliday (7) but can't complete the double play as Pirates' Jordy Mercer watches during the first inning Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
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The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen hits a ball into the infield during the first inning against the Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
Reuters
Pirates starter Charlie Morton delivers a pitch to the Cardinals during the first inning Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
The Cardinals' Matt Carperter (13) celebrates his RBI double as the Pirates' Neil Walker looks down in the second inning Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
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The Pirates' Stolmy Pimentel delivers a pitch against the Cardinals during the fourth inning Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
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The Pirates' Jordy Mercer prepares to throw to first in the fourth inning against the Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
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The Cardinals' Pete Kozma throws to first for the out against the Pirates during the third inning Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
The Cardinals' Matt Carpenter (13) is safe at second with an RBI double on the call by umpire Brian Gorman as the Pirates' Neil Walker (18) can't make the tag in the second inning Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
Pirates fan Paula Cain of Sharon sits in the rain prior to the Pirates' game against the Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
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The Pirates' Jordy Mercer stretches but is unable to reach a line drive in the sixth inning against the Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
The Pirates' Josh Harrison rounds third on his way to score on a hit by Garrett Jones against the Cardinals in the ninth inning Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
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The Pirates' Garrett Jones crosses the plate to score during the ninth inning in a game against the Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) is taken out of the game with an undisclosed injury by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, left, in the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)

ST. LOUIS — The only good news the Pirates got Sunday was that their most reliable pitcher did not reinjure his surgically rebuilt arm in a wipeout loss against the Cardinals.

But even that news came with a qualifier.

An injury to his left foot — the team labeled it “discomfort,” which can span all sorts of possible maladies — forced right-hander Charlie Morton to exit in the second inning. He left Busch Stadium before the game ended and caught a flight to Pittsburgh to be examined by team doctors.

The Cardinals pounded a half-dozen hits off Morton, and they didn't stop after he left the game. The Pirates managed just two hits in seven innings against rookie Michael Wacha and absorbed a 9-2 beating.

“We kicked their butts at our place, and they got us back,” outfielder Garrett Jones said.

The three-game sweep dropped the Pirates 1 12 games behind the first-place Cardinals in the NL Central. The Pirates open a series Monday against the Texas Rangers and Cy Young Award candidate Yu Darvish.

“My expectations (coming into this season) were we'd be in a dogfight,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “And we're legitimately in a dogfight. How do you get better? You've got to go through the fire and deal with these things.”

In the second inning, with a runner on third base and two outs, Morton (7-4) threw a changeup that bounced several feet in front of the plate. Jon Jay scored on the wild pitch to make it 5-0.

Pitching coach Ray Searage went out to talk to Morton, then called for athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk. After a quick conversation, Morton walked off the field with Tomczyk.

According to the Pirates, Morton told team officials he hurt his foot covering home plate.

“He said he felt something pop in his foot,” catcher John Buck said.

Morton had Tommy John surgery on June 14, 2012. After rehabbing in Bradenton, Fla., and making nine minor league outings, he made his season debut with the Pirates on June 13.

Since the All-Star break, Morton has been the Pirates' most consistent starter. He went 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA over his previous nine starts.

Wacha (3-0) came up big in just his 12th outing (sixth start) in the majors. The righty worked seven innings, walked two and struck out two.

“We've got to ride this out and hopefully get it going in Texas,” Jones said.

There's a lot on the team's plate, though. Morton's status is up in the air. The Pirates have blown four consecutive chances to claim win No. 82, which will end their ugly, 20-year losing streak. And they may be in danger of drifting out of contention for the division title.

Yet Hurdle seemed somewhat baffled that fans, even those who stood staunchly behind the team over the past two decades, are nervous about where it all will lead.

“We've earned this opportunity to play meaningful games in September, based on what we've done through the entire volume of games in a season,” Hurdle said. “And there's still people I talk to who wake up every morning in fear, not in hope.

“It's amazing what a pennant race does to people. I tell them, ‘If you're going to ride that roller coaster, put your seatbelt on. That's a hard place to live.' I've done it. That's why I don't do it anymore. I understand what fans do, but that can't be what I do.”

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

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