Game Report: Pirates 4, Cardinals 3

Trying to pick the right pitcher to protect a one-run lead in the ninth inning has become a difficult challenge for Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny.

Faced with that situation again on Sunday, Matheny opted for left-hander Brett Cecil, riding a 15-inning scoreless streak, but he could not do the job either as the Pirates rallied for two runs and their second walk-off win in the three-game series in Pittsburgh.

“Those one-run ninths are hard anywhere and they seem especially hard here,” Matheny told reporters after the game.

It was the 12th blown save of the season by the Cardinals, the first for Cecil, who was trying to record his first save since June 19, 2015.

An infield single by Francisco Cervelli off the glove of shortstop Paul DeJong put the leadoff hitter on base in the ninth, and pinch-runner Josh Harrison scored to tie the game on a double by Jordy Mercer. After David Freese was intentionally walked with two outs, Adam Frazier’s single scored Mercer with the winning run.

The Cardinals have recorded only six saves in their last 32 games since June 23, three by Seung Hwan Oh and one each by Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Bowman and Tyler Lyons.

Here is how the game broke down:

At the plate:
Yadier Molina’s 10th homer of the season had given the Cardinals the 3-2 lead in the eighth … Magneuris Sierra got the start in right field after his callup on Saturday and went 4-for-4, three of the hits infield singles. Sierra set the franchise record by getting at least one hit in the first nine games of his career. He also stole a base and scored a run … Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, Matheny opted to keep Carlos Martinez in the game to hit with two outs and he delivered an RBI single to tie the game … Matt Carpenter had two hits and the other RBI for the Cardinals.

On the mound:
After giving up a run in the first inning, Martinez allowed just three hits and one run over the next six innings, but still did not get a decision to extend his streak to five consecutive starts without a win. His last victory came a month ago, on June 16 … Rosenthal hit the first batter he faced In the eighth but stranded the runner at first … Cecil suffered his fifth blown save of the season. His streak of 15 2/3 scoreless innings since June 13 had been the longest active streak in the majors.

Key stat: The Cardinals lost for the third time this season when they carried a lead into the ninth inning and are now 39-3 in those games, but also are 3-7 in games which are tied after eight innings. This was their fourth walk-off loss of the season.

Worth noting
: Since the start of the 2015 season, five of the Cardinals’ 18 walk-off losses have come in Pittsburgh … Sierra is the fifth player since Vince Coleman to record a four-hit game in one of his first nine career games with the Cardinals. Bo Hart did it twice in 2003, Daniel Descalso did it in 2010 and Jeremy Hazelbaker last year … Sierra is the fifth Cardinal with a four-hit game this season, joining DeJong, Tommy Pham, Aledmys Diaz and Jedd Gyorko.

Looking ahead: The Cardinals will open a four-game series against the Mets Monday night in New York. Adam Wainwright will get the start against Zach Wheeler.