When Mitch Keller walked off the mound at Busch Stadium, the right-hander had tossed five scoreless innings and the Pittsburgh Pirates were holding a five-run lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Then came the collapse.
Dylan Carlson hit a three-run home run as the Cardinals rallied with a five-run sixth inning to tie the game, then Paul Goldschmidt hit a solo shot in the seventh for the lead.
Where the Pirates got a strong start from Keller, their bullpen blew the lead in a 7-5 loss to Cardinals on Monday night for their season-high seventh consecutive loss.
“After Mitch came out, we just threw too many balls in the middle of the plate,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “This is way too good of a lineup to miss over the middle of the plate. We didn’t execute pitches.”
Goldschmidt and Brendan Donovan both had three-hit nights as the Cardinals collected 14 hits. Their relievers retired 12 consecutive Pirates batters to end the game.
With his sinker not working like it had in his previous start, Keller relied on his four-seam fastball and curveball, which he threw for a career-high 23 pitches of his 97 pitches.
“Right off the bat, we didn’t have a good feel for my slider like I did last game,” Keller said. “It was, ‘We’ve got to find a way to throw another spin pitch for a strike or something that’s going to get some swing and miss.’ That’s definitely why we went to more curveballs than sliders.”
Keller allowed seven hits before leaving with runners on first and third with one out in the sixth after a Goldschmidt double and a Tyler O’Neill single. Shelton turned to lefty reliever Anthony Banda to face the left-handed Donovan, who doubled to the right field corner to score both Goldschmidt and O’Neill, tagging Keller with a pair of runs as the Cardinals cut it to 5-2.
After Juan Yepez hit a bloop single to shallow right, Carlson blasted Banda’s curveball 406 feet to right-center for a three-run homer to tie the game.
“We had the matchup we wanted with the left,” Shelton said, “and we didn’t get the guys out we should’ve got out.”
Goldschmidt led off the seventh by hitting Chris Stratton’s full-count fastball for a 420-foot solo shot to left for his 13th home run and a 6-5 lead. The Cardinals added another run in the eighth, when Carlson doubled and scored on an error by second baseman Yu Chang, who missed Ke’Bryan Hayes’ throw from third on an Andrew Knizner bunt.
The Pirates got off to a hot start, thanks to shortstop Diego Castillo. With one out and runners on first and second, Castillo made a specatcular play to end the first inning. Castillo went left to field Nolan Arenado’s grounder up the middle and quickly transferred from his glove to his bare right hand for a backhand flip to Yu Chang at second, who turned the double play.
In the top of the second, Castillo sent Zack Thompson’s 1-2 fastball 398 feet over the left field fence for his third home run to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
The Pirates got a scare in the bottom of the second, when Castillo tried to turn another double play. He fielded Tommy Edman’s grounder and stepped on second base but his throw to first bounced and ricocheted off the wrist of Michael Chavis and hit him in the face. After being examined by Pirates trainer Rafael Freitas, Chavis remained in the game.
Keller gave up a one-out double to Donovan, who advanced to third on a fielder’s choice, but got Carlson to line out to second to keep the Cardinals scoreless. St. Louis threatened again in the third, when Goldschmidt singled up the middle to put runners on first and second but Keller got Arenado to fly out to center.
The Pirates scored four runs in the fifth, as Chang and Bryan Reynolds singled. Hayes drove in Chang for a 2-0 lead, and Chavis drove Thompson’s 1-1 changeup 417 feet to left-center for a 5-0 lead.
Shelton was at a loss for how the Pirates can end their losing skid.
“We’ve got to figure out the way to break it up,” Shelton said. “We’re just in a stretch where we’ve got to make our own breaks, and we’ve not done that.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .