Jared Hughes was a strike away from putting the St. Louis Cardinals in serious trouble.
That’s when his problems began.
The normally reliable Pittsburgh Pirates reliever unraveled during the seventh inning of a 3-2 loss Monday night when his typically efficient sinker didn’t sink quite enough to do its job.
“I still have confidence in that pitch and I have confidence in our team, and if I continue to pitch that sinker down in the zone it will be hit to people and it’ll be a different outcome tomorrow,” Hughes said.
Tony Cruz started the rally by turning an 0-2 count into a single. Jon Jay tied the game three batters later with a pinch hit to center, and Matt Holliday gave St. Louis the lead with a chopper past shortstop Jordy Mercer as the Pirates fell further behind St. Louis in the race for a National League playoff spot.
“He’s been great all year,” Pirates starter Francisco Liriano said of Hughes. “He’s not going to be perfect every time. ... It’s a tough game.”
John Lackey (2-1) worked out of trouble early to last seven innings in his second victory for the Cardinals after arriving in a trade from Boston on July 31. He was 11-7 with the Red Sox.
Trevor Rosenthal gave up a leadoff home run in the ninth to Andrew McCutchen but held on to earn his 39th save.
Pedro Alvarez hit his 18th homer in the second off Lackey, but the Pirates managed little after that to fall further off the pace behind St. Louis and first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
Liriano overwhelmed the Cardinals for the first five innings, striking out eight and looking very much like the ace that led Pittsburgh with 16 victories a year ago. He tired in the sixth but worked out of a bases loaded, one-out jam when Oscar Taveras hit into a third-to-home-to-first double play.
Liriano left after giving up an infield single to Kolten Wong leading off the seventh.