PITTSBURGH (AP) — Wearing Hawaiian shirts as they headed out for a cross-country flight, the Pittsburgh Pirates insisted that a record 19th consecutive losing season was a year of progress.
"This isn't anything like before," losing pitcher Charlie Morton said after Wednesday's 3-2 defeat to St. Louis clinched another sub-.500 record. "The atmosphere is totally different. We were in contention for a good while. It's been a long time since that's happened."
Yadier Molina hit a tiebreaking, two-run double in the fourth for the Cardinals.
A year after going a big league-worst 57-105, the Pirates were 51-44 and led the NL Central by a half-game before play on July 20. But they have gone 16-38 since, leaving them at 67-82.
"Our how-to is going to have to get better, because we've got to get this organization to the point where we're no longer talking about consecutive losing seasons," said first-year manager Clint Hurdle, who planned the Hawaiian shirts in advance.
When the Pirates last had a winning season, Barry Bonds led them to Game 7 of the NL championship series. At times this year, it seemed like the Pirates finally were on their way to a winning season.
"They compete," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Clint and his coaching staff have done a really good job of getting their players to play hard for nine innings. They've played us tough and everybody else, too."
St. Louis, which has 13 games left, has won seven of eight and remained 4 1-2 games behind Atlanta in the NL wild-card race. The Cardinals began the day 6 1-2 games back of Milwaukee in the NL Central.
Edwin Jackson (5-2) allowed two runs and eight hits in 7 1-3 innings and improved to 4-0 in his career against Pittsburgh. Three relievers combined to hold Pittsburgh scoreless over the final 2 1-3 innings. Jason Motte pitched a perfect ninth for his seventh save in 10 chances.
"Anytime you can get a quality start and the team wins, it's a good day," Jackson said. "It's a game we really needed. We can't afford to lose a series."
Morton (9-10) lost his fourth straight start, giving up three runs, six hits and three walks in seven innings.
With the score 1-1 in the fourth, Molina doubled off Charlie Morton (9-10), a drive off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field.
"I was just looking to drive in a run in that situation," Molina said. "He likes to pitch me on the outside part of the plate and I got a pitch up and away that I could drive."
Derrek Lee, who went 3 for 3, pulled the Pirates within a run when he hit an RBI double in the sixth.
Rafael Furcal hit a double on the game's first pitch and scored on Allen Craig's two-out double.
Pittsburgh tied it in the second in the third when Michael McKerny led off with a double and Alex Presley doubled him home with one out.
NOTES: Cardinals LF Matt Holliday missed the game as he returned to St. Louis to be examined after spraining his right hand Tuesday night while taking practice swings in the on deck circle in the ninth inning. Furcal, the Cardinals' shortstop, left in the fifth inning with a strained right knee sustained when he was thrown out trying to steal second base. The Cardinals were still awaiting news on Holliday after the game while Furcal said he should not miss any games. ... Cardinals INF Daniel Descalso started at third base in place of David Freese for a second straight game but La Russa said the slumping Freese will return to the lineup Friday night for the start of a four-game series at Philadelphia. La Russa played Descalso on Wednesday because left-handed batters were hitting .370 against Morton coming in. ... Pirates RHP Ross Ohlendorf (0-2, 8.03) will start Thursday night against Dodgers LHP Dana Eveland (2-0, 0.60). Ohlendorf is 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA in four starts since being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis. Eveland allowed one run in eight innings in winning at Pittsburgh on Sept. 1. ... St. Louis is off Thursday before facing the NL East-leading Phillies. LHP Jaime Garcia (12-7, 3.68) will start the series opener for the Cardinals against RHP Vance Worley (11-2, 2.92). Garcia is 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 13 career starts against NL East teams.