PITTSBURGH -- With his club nearly out of contention in the National League Central but still locked in a three-way wild-card race, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny on Sunday handed the ball to a rookie right-hander making his first start of 2017.
John Gant's appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates was abbreviated, but useful. He allowed one run in three innings, working out of a none-out, bases-loaded jam in which only one run scored.
The bullpen, however, was not as strong, a familiar story. Relievers Seung Hwan Oh and Brett Cecil yielded home runs as the Pirates beat the Cardinals 4-1 at PNC Park.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals' offense missed key chances, producing just four hits.
"I thought John did a nice job," Matheny said. "Got to a pretty tight spot in the third and to just give up the one, actually shouldn't have given that one up either. But all in all I thought he did a pretty good job. Wanted to run our bullpen through to give our guys a chance, but just couldn't get the big hit when we did have opportunities."
The Cardinals had two runners on with one out on the fifth but Matt Carpenter and Tommy Pham struck out. St. Louis loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh inning before Pham grounded out sharply off George Kontos, the third reliever of the inning.
Pirates' right-hander Jameson Taillon (8-7) left after five innings and 95 pitches, but pitched effectively -- one run, four hits, six strikeouts and one walk.
Jordan Luplow homered and tripled for the Pirates, and five relievers held the Cardinals scoreless over the last four innings. Felipe Rivero notched his 19th save.
Carpenter led off the third with his 22nd home run to give the Cardinals a short-lived 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, the Pirates loaded the bases with none out.
Jose Osuna lofted a short fly to left, but Chris Bostick broke from third base anyway. Pham's throw was cut off by Jedd Gyorko, who believed Bostick was faking an attempt to score. By the time Gyorko realized the attempt was real, the relay to the plate was too late, and Starling Marte wound up on third.
"The throw has to be thrown through Jed," Pham said. "I did what I was taught to do. When I talked to Jed, he said he heard (third base coach Joey Cora) go 'No, no, no.' They kind of fooled him. That's why he caught it. It deked him. It caught him off-guard."
Taillon, who retired six straight after Carpenter's homer, gave up a pair of singles with one out in the fifth but struck out Carpenter and Pham to keep the game knotted.
Matt Bowman pitched a scoreless fourth for the Cardinals in relief of Gant. Oh (1-6), the ex-closer having a miserable season, came in to pitch the fifth and was greeted by Bostick's single and Marte's seventh homer of the season as the Pirates took a 3-1 lead.
"I feel like I'm getting my rhythm back," said Marte, who missed 80 games due to a PED suspension and struggled after his return in July. "I feel like things are coming back together and I'm feeling great."
But Oh hasn't turned things around. Asked about his season, he said through an interpreter, "Obviously, everybody can see how it is. Very tough."
Luplow's solo homer off Cecil in the sixth made it 4-1.
NOTES: Cardinals 1B Matt Carpenter's third-inning home run was his 55th extra base hit, tops on the club. ... Before Carpenter's homer, Pittsburgh Pirates RHP Jameson Taillon had yielded one in his previous five starts. ... OF Jordan Luplow tripled and homered for the Pirates the day after he was named the club's minor league hitter of the year.