PITTSBURGH - Jared Hughes was a strike away from putting the St. Louis Cardinals in serious trouble.
That's when his problems began.
The normally reliable Pittsburgh Pirates reliever unraveled during the seventh inning of a 3-2 loss Monday night when his typically efficient sinker didn't sink quite enough to do its job.
AP Photo/Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen rounds the bases past St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong after hitting a solo home run in the ninth inning Monday in Pittsburgh.
"I still have confidence in that pitch and I have confidence in our team, and if I continue to pitch that sinker down in the zone it will be hit to people and it'll be a different outcome tomorrow," Hughes said.
Tony Cruz started the rally by turning an 0-2 count into a single. Jon Jay tied the game three batters later with a pinch hit to center, and Matt Holliday gave St. Louis the lead with a chopper past shortstop Jordy Mercer as the Pirates fell further behind St. Louis in the race for a National League playoff spot.
"He's been great all year," Pirates starter Francisco Liriano said of Hughes. "He's not going to be perfect every time. ... It's a tough game."
John Lackey (2-1) worked out of trouble early to last seven innings in his second victory for the Cardinals after arriving in a trade from Boston on July 31. He was 11-7 with the Red Sox.
Trevor Rosenthal gave up a leadoff home run in the ninth to Andrew McCutchen but held on to earn his 39th save.
Pedro Alvarez hit his 18th homer in the second off Lackey, but the Pirates managed little after that to fall further off the pace behind St. Louis and first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
Liriano overwhelmed the Cardinals for the first five innings, striking out eight and looking very much like the ace that led Pittsburgh with 16 victories a year ago. He tired in the sixth but worked out of a bases loaded, one-out jam when Oscar Taveras hit into a third-to-home-to-first double play.
Liriano left after giving up an infield single to Kolten Wong leading off the seventh. Hughes (6-4) came on and promptly picked off Wong. Things didn't work out so well for Hughes, however, when he went to the plate.
"It's just a night where he wasn't able to get the ball where he wanted to get the ball," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Hughes threw a pair of strikes to Cruz before the rally began, one that culminated with Holliday's grounder slipping by Mercer's outstretched glove. St. Louis has 209 RBIs this season with two outs, tops in the National League.
The cushion was more than enough for Lackey, who had little trouble after navigating a choppy second inning. Alvarez hit a long home run to center with one out, and infield hits by Starling Marte and Mercer followed. The runners moved up on a sacrifice by Liriano, but Josh Harrison's sharply hit fly to left went right to Holliday.
Lackey settled down following the reprieve, not allowing a runner past first base over his final five innings. He walked one and struck out three to improve to 3-0 against National League teams this season.
RHP Charlie Morton, on the 15-day DL since Aug. 20 with a sports hernia in his right hip, threw a bullpen session and will start for Double-A Altoona on Thursday. Morton will work five innings or 75 pitches.
RHP Gerrit Cole (7-4, 3.69 ERA) tries for his first victory since July 4. Cole is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA in two regular-season starts against the Cardinals.
Phillies 3, Nationals 2
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A.J. Burnett struck out 12 in seven innings and Cody Asche and Carlos Ruiz homered to lead Philadelphia to a victory over Washington.
Domonic Brown had two hits and an RBI for Philadelphia, which won for the fourth time in five games.
Wilson Ramos and Anthony Rendon homered for NL East-leading Washington, which lost for just the second time in 14 games.
Burnett (7-14) won for the first time since the All-Star break, allowing one run on three hits with just one walk. The right-hander entered leading the majors in walks with 76.
Tanner Roark (12-8) gave up two runs on five hits in six innings and lost for just the second time in his last nine starts. Roark has a 2.25 ERA over that stretch.
Yankees 8, Royals 1
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Derek Jeter drove in two runs in his final scheduled trip to Kauffman Stadium, backing a sharp outing from Michael Pineda and helping New York beat Kansas City for their fifth straight win.
Jacoby Ellsbury drove in a run in the seventh inning with the 1,000th hit of his career, then added a two-run homer in the ninth. Stephen Drew and Martin Prado also homered for New York.
Pineda (3-2) gave up a solo shot to Mike Moustakas leading off the third inning, but that was about it in his third game back from the disabled list. Pineda struck out five without a walk in 6 1-3 innings to win for the first time since beating the Cubs on April 16.
James Shields (12-7) allowed six runs over 6 2-3 innings for Kansas City.
Red Sox 4
Blue Jays 3, 10 innings
TORONTO (AP) - Yoenis Cespedes singled home the go-ahead run in the 10th inning and Boston survived a ninth-inning collapse to beat Toronto, snapping their losing streak at eight games.
Cespedes has 19 RBIs in 22 games since being traded to Boston on July 31. Seven of those 19 RBIs have given the Red Sox a lead.
Brock Holt hit a one-out single off Aaron Sanchez (2-1) in the 10th and stole second as Dustin Pedroia struck out, with the steal confirmed by video review. Holt stole third before Cespedes drove him in with a single up the middle.
Boston won for the first time since August 16 against Houston and snapped a six-game skid against the stumbling Blue Jays, who dropped to 6-15 in August.
Koji Uehara (6-4) got the win despite blowing his fourth save in 30 chances, and Craig Breslow finished for his first save in two chances.
Orioles 9, Rays 1
BALTIMORE (AP) - Delmon Young, J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis homered in succession during a six-run fifth inning, and Baltimore cruised past Tampa Bay to end a three-game losing streak.
Baltimore hit five homers in all, four off rookie Jake Odorizzi (9-11). Nick Markakis and Steve Pearce delivered back-to-back shots in the third to spark the Orioles to their ninth win in 13 games against Tampa Bay this season.
After totaling four runs and 13 hits in three road losses to the Chicago Cubs, the Orioles got 14 hits against a Tampa Bay staff that had a major league-best 2.28 ERA since the All-Star break.
Baltimore's Chris Tillman (11-5) yielded an unearned run and three hits in seven innings.
Athletics 8, Astros 2
HOUSTON (AP) - Jeff Samardzija pitched eight solid innings and Josh Donaldson drove in three runs to lead Oakland over Houston.
Samardzija (4-3) allowed six hits, two runs and tied a season high with 10 strikeouts to bounce back from a two-game skid in which he yielded 11 runs combined.
Josh Reddick hit a two-run homer and Donaldson had three hits after sitting out Sunday with a knee injury. Donaldson doubled twice for his first extra-base hits and RBIs in his last nine games.
Reddick's 10th home run sailed into the seats in right field to push Oakland's lead to 3-0 in the fourth.