If you really want to get down to brass tacks, this whole game turned on one play. After the Pirates took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, Yadier Molina lead off the fifth wiht a single. Skip Schumaker followed that up with a ball hit to left-center that seemed to hang up in the air for forever. It looked like Jose Tabata was going to be able to make a play on it, but he couldn't get to it in time. Andrew McCutchen came in from center to cut the play off and had to kind of re-route himself around Tabata, who kept running out to the fence. McCutchen appeared to twist his ankle in the grass, and Molina scored all the way from first. Watching the replay again now, I'm just not sure how Tabata didn't get to that ball; he had plenty of time and it even seemed like he had a good line on it. He just didn't get there. As a result, the Pirates needed a perfect McCutchen-to-Harrison-to-Barajas relay line to keep the game tied in the fifth and the Cardinals tacked two on in the sixth to take a lead they wouldn't give up.
For most of the night the Pirates seemed to hit the ball pretty hard off of Kyle Lohse. Andrew McCutchen hit a few balls right on the nose but only had one hit to show for it and in the Pirates' two-run fourth it seemed like every hit the Pirates had that inning was a screaming line drive that was directed right at someone to limit it for a single. Instead of a string of extra base hits to break the game open, the Pirates only came out of it with two runs and that wasn't nearly enough.
This kind of loss illustrates what was so bad about the Pirates playing terribly in most of the month leading up to this series; if you go take the field and put together a relatively solid effort against a good baseball team, maybe you're lucky to win half of those games. Suddenly the Pirates are in a position where that's probably not going to cut it; had they split with the Dodgers and taken a game or two from the Padres and actually showed up for the Brewers series over the weekend, this is the sort of game that a team could lose and you'd be able to say to yourself, "Well, that was frustrating but it wasn't so bad; on a different night those hits fall in and the Bucs win this game 6-4. Even the series up tomorrow." That's not really an option for this team, though. They had a lead and they couldn't hold on to it and now they're three games out of a playoff spot. That's bad news.
"Watching the replay again now, I'm just not sure how Tabata didn't get to that ball"
I wasn't at the game, but my understanding is that the rain made the field slippery. There were at least two other plays I can remember where the outfielder slipped and/or had trouble with his footing.
Hang in there, Pat. I want to express appreciation for your blog which I've been following regular for a couple of years. I became a Pirates fan in 1958 (and did so out here in the West, surrounded by Dodgers and Giants fans) and have enjoyed three World Series wins in my lifetime. I hope for you and other young fans that same thrill.