In a game filled with wasted opportunities, it was one huge error in the ninth inning that opened the door for the St. Louis Cardinals.
They capitalized on Starling Marte's dropped fly ball and then Jon Jay slid home safely on Adron Chambers' single in the 14th inning to give the Cardinals a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the start of a big three-game series at Busch Stadium.
Jay hit a ball that was deflected off shortstop Clint Barmes and into center field. He then stole second before Chambers sliced a hit to left field. After two bounces, Marte's throw home was a bit up the first-base side and catcher Russell Martin was unable to apply the tag in time.
St. Louis, which won despite leaving 17 men on base, pulled within two games of the Pirates for first place in the NL Central.
Marte dropped what would have been a routine fly ball to left field by Daniel Descalso in the ninth inning. It would have been the second out. Descalso, though later scored the tying run on Allen Craig's two-out single to right field.
"There are some hard lessons learned from time to time," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We let one probably get away."
Both teams had several chances to score in extra innings, but the Cardinals won their second in a row following a four-game skid.
"All the way down the line the guys did a terrific job," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "There were a lot of guys that did things right tonight."
Things were breaking right for the Pirates, but they ended up losing their fourth in a row to equal a season-high.
Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer in the first inning and Jordy Mercer added a solo shot off Adam Wainwright in the second.
The Cardinals scored twice in the sixth. They loaded the bases with nobody out. David Freese's broken-bat double-play grounder scored Carlos Beltran. Jay's single to left plated Craig.
The Cardinals put men on the corners in the eighth thanks to singles from Matt Holliday and Jay. Second baseman Neil Walker then moved to shallow right field to play the shift for pinch-hitter Matt Adams, whose line drive was caught by Walker in a perfectly-timed jump to end the inning.
The ninth, though, was a nightmare for the Pirates as Mark Melancon was unable to nail down the save. The game went to the 10th when Beltran was tagged out in a rundown.
Charlie Morton pitched six strong innings for the Pirates, while Adam Wainwright threw the first seven frames for the Cardinals, who were 0-40 this season when trailing after eight innings.
Sam Freeman (1-0) pitched the final inning to get his first major league win, while Jared Hughes (2-3) was tagged with the loss.
St. Louis filled the bases with one out in the 10th, but Vin Mazzaro fanned Pete Kozma and then retired Descalso on a fly ball to left-center with McCutchen calling off Marte.
Both teams wasted good chances in the 11th, including the Pirates with two men on base. Seth Maness entered from the bullpen to fan Mercer to end the frame.
The Cardinals put men on first and third with one out in their half of the 11th. The Pirates brought in right fielder Josh Harrison for the fifth infielder and the move paid off. Maness grounded a ball to Barmes, but his low throw was recovered by Harrison, who made the toss in time to first to complete the double play.
Pittsburgh wasted a golden opportunity to score in the 13th. With the bases full, Harrison bounced out to third to start a double play.
The Cardinals also loaded the bases in the 13th after a double from Carpenter and a pair of intentional walks, but Maness was called out on strikes to extend it to the 14th inning.
The teams combined to leave 28 men on base ... Craig came into the game batting a major league-best .464 with men in scoring position ... Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata was out due to flu-like symptoms. The team also selected the contract of outfielder Andrew Lambo from Indianapolis and optioned outfielder Alex Presley to the Triple-A club ... The Cardinals recalled infielder Jermaine Curtis from Memphis and optioned pitcher Michael Blazek to the same minor league squad ... Holliday extended his hitting streak to a season-high 10 games ... Marte has 34 steals, the most by a Pirate since Tony Womack had a league-leading 58 in 1998 ... The Pirates are 7-4 versus St. Louis this season ... The teams are approaching the one-year anniversary of Pittsburgh's 6-3 win in 19 innings at Busch Stadium, on Aug. 19, 2012.