Wednesday night was that rare game for the St. Louis Cardinals where things didn't fall into place. Where they didn't come up with the key strikeout or clutch hit that they've produced with frequency the last six weeks.
And where they took another injury hit, in addition to an illness that chased MVP candidate Matt Carpenter off the field in the fourth inning.
The Cardinals' 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates also puts their streak of series victories on the line in Thursday night's final game of the three-game set at Busch Stadium. Nine consecutive series wins have brought St. Louis (74-59) from mediocrity to the National League's first wild-card spot.
But a wave of injuries has suddenly left the Cardinals scrambling just before they can expand their roster on Saturday. Before Wednesday night's game, they disabled infielder Jedd Gyorko (groin), making him the third player in the last week to hit the 10-day DL.
After Gyorko joined left fielder Marcell Ozuna (shoulder) and second baseman Kolten Wong (hamstring) on the shelf, Carpenter hurried off the field in the fourth inning. He tried to play through what manager Mike Shildt termed a 24-hour bug, only to vomit near first base.
"Looks like Carp will be just fine," Shildt said. "He was trying to power through it."
It was that type of night for St. Louis, which missed on a golden opportunity to punish Trevor Williams in the first inning when it got runners to second and third with no outs and couldn't even manage a run. Williams went on to fire six shutout innings for his 11th win of the year, extending a dominant stretch which has seen him allow just four runs in his last 48 innings over eight starts.
"We had an opportunity in the first to make a mark and didn't get on the board," Shildt said. "Guys kept taking tough at-bats, but we came up short."
The Cardinals will try to capture another series behind right-hander John Gant (5-5, 3.56 ERA), who has pitched the best baseball of his career over his last four starts. In that span Gant has ceded only five runs in his last 22 2/3 innings, and he tied a career high Saturday by lasting seven innings in Colorado while permitting only one run.
Gant's last poor start took place on Aug. 3 in Pittsburgh, when he was pounded for six runs on eight hits over four innings in a no-decision. Gant is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in five career games, three of them starts, against the Pirates. In two starts against Pittsburgh this season, Gant is 0-1 with an 8.68 ERA.
Pittsburgh (65-68) will try to play spoiler for the second straight game behind hard-throwing right-hander Joe Musgrove (5-7, 3.56), who is coming off a short start Friday night at Milwaukee. He gave up six hits and four runs in four innings of a 7-6, 15-inning loss, walking none and fanning four.
Musgrove fired seven shutout innings against St. Louis on May 25 in his first start of the season, allowing just five hits and whiffing seven with no walks in an 8-1 victory. That was his only career appearance against the Cardinals.