PITTSBURGH -- A night that began with the first three Cardinals hitters reaching base ended with St. Louis unable to collect one hit with a runner in scoring position. That elusive run-scoring hit early against A.J. Burnett and late against the Pirates' bullpen cost the Cardinals an opportunity to parlay another strong start from Jake Westbrook into a win at PNC Park on Saturday.
St. Louis let Burnett off the hook in the first inning of a game the Pirates took, 2-0, and a 13-pitch span during that frame served as a microcosm for the night.
"That was the time to get some runs," David Freese said. "We take pride in scoring first."
Burnett gave the Cardinals every opportunity to jump out to the advantage in his Pirates debut. Fresh off the disabled list, Burnett opened the game by walking Rafael Furcal on four pitches. Matt Carpenter followed with a single. Matt Holliday loaded the bases with a walk.
Then all of a sudden, Burnett (1-0) felt things click.
Carlos Beltran, who has been moved into the cleanup spot in Lance Berkman's absence, swung through a curveball for the first out of the frame. Freese, who led the team with six hits with runners in scoring position, also went down swinging. Burnett then completed his escape by getting Yadier Molina to line out to a leaping Clint Barmes at short.
The three outs came in the final 13 pitches of the 24-pitch frame. Burnett headed to the dugout unscathed.
"He started making pitches," manager Mike Matheny said. "He got himself into the jam by not finding the zone. Then he started making his adjustments. He kept rolling. Times we had opportunities to capitalize, we didn't get it done."
The Cardinals, who entered the night hitting a league-best .287, never did have another opportunity against Burnett. Beginning with those three first-inning outs, Burnett retired 12 straight. That string was broken up by Daniel Descalso's fifth-inning single, though Descalso was quickly erased on a double play.
Carpenter's sixth-inning hit was Burnett's only other blemish.
"A lot of us were being aggressive early but weren't really squaring things up," Shane Robinson said. "We knew what he was going to do, and he basically did what we thought he was going to do. We weren't able to capitalize."
Though it wasn't cited as an excuse for the quiet offensive night, the Cardinals weren't told Burnett would even be in the ballpark until about four hours before first pitch. Scheduled to make a rehab start in Double-A on Saturday, Burnett was instead activated off the DL to fill in for Kevin Correia, who complained of left side discomfort.
After allowing 11 earned runs in 10 1/3 Minor League innings, Burnett didn't allow the Cardinals to place a runner in scoring position after the first. In fact, the Cardinals' high Class A team had scored eight times (five earned) off him 10 days ago.
"It's different up here," said Burnett, who needed only 52 pitches to finish his last six innings. "Some guys are able to turn on a switch and I've been around and I've been playing for a long time, and I think coming up here was my time to turn my switch on."
The Cardinals' scoring chances improved upon Burnett's exit, but the results didn't differ. Carpenter and Holliday both struck out with runners on second and third in the eighth. Erik Komatsu and Robinson couldn't come through with the potential tying runs on in the ninth.
With a depleted bench -- both Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker are nursing injuries -- Matheny had little choice but to let the two rookies bat against Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan.
The Cardinals struck out 11 times in all. Holliday, who is in a 5-for-35 funk, had three of those.
"I'm just taking it day by day, but I don't feel too good about where my swing is at," Holliday said. "[I'm] just trying to keep working and not strike out as much. It's frustrating."
Both he and Matheny noted that he hasn't gotten much help on some calls either. Holliday was rung up on strikes in the third on a pitch that looked outside umpire Jim Reynolds' strike zone for the night. It wasn't the first time in recent days that Holliday felt a call go against him.
"It has seemed to happen to Matt a lot," Matheny added. "I'm saying it for him, because it has stood out in my mind. It has happened more often to him than anybody else."
Westbrook (2-1) took the loss despite pitching no worse than he did in his previous two outings. He became the first Cardinal to throw more than 100 pitches in a start this season. That 113-pitch performance was marred by a pair of Pedro Alvarez RBI singles. Both came on low changeups that Westbrook actually seemed to locate well.
Alvarez's fourth-inning hit was stopped by Freese, who couldn't recover from the diving stop in time to make a throw. His sixth-inning single scooted into right. Alvarez, who entered the game 2-for-30, drove home Andrew McCutchen with both hits.
"I was getting the ball on the ground," Westbrook said. "A lot of times, once I throw it, I can't control where it goes. They did a good job of scratching out runs."
Westbrook struck out a season-best six and located his sinker well again. He recorded only two of his outs outside the infield.
"He just needs to stay right there," Matheny said. "We'll get runs for him."
The club finished 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.