ST. LOUIS - The ball felt good coming out of Mitchell Boggs' hand. Small consolation for the St. Louis Cardinals' reliever after another miserable outing that capped a dismal day for his team.
Boggs' 12.66 ERA is what stands out most about a bullpen that's been shaky adapting to new roles without injured closer Jason Motte. Boggs lost his job as stand-in closer earlier this month and trudged off the mound yet again in the ninth inning of the Pittsburgh Pirates' 9-0 victory Sunday afternoon.
"I made some really good pitches," Boggs said. "I don't have much to show for it."
Manager Mike Matheny still has faith in the right-hander who was one of the majors' best setup men last season.
"I'd loved to have left him in there," Matheny said. "It's one of those days that probably wasn't reflective of his stuff going in a better direction. You've just got to keep fighting."
After deconstructing an outing that included a "blooper into right, a shattered bat into left and a ball that was hit so bad you could only get one out with the base loaded," Boggs struck a note of defiance.
"I'm obviously not ecstatic about how it's going," Boggs said. "Yeah, it's hard to be positive, but at the same time you have to do everything you can to fight every single day and I'm doing that.
"If anybody can't see that, they're crazy."
Boggs allowed two hits, a walk and a run-scoring groundout by Gaby Sanchez in two-thirds of an inning and was charged with three of the Pirates' five runs in the ninth. In 10 2/3 innings overall he's given up 15 earned runs on 17 hits and 10 walks.
Nothing worked for the Cardinals, who were shut down by rookie lefty Jeff Locke and totaled just three hits while getting leapfrogged by the Pirates for the NL Central lead. They lost consecutive games for the first time this season and dropped their first series since opening the season losing two of three at Arizona.
"We had a tough time getting anything going," Matheny said. "It's not a day we were expecting."
David Freese was 0-for-3 with a strikeout on his 30th birthday, dropping his average to .178 with no homers and three RBI. Matheny said Freese is having difficulty picking up the ball.
"I'm obviously not happy with the way I'm performing," said Freese, the 2011 World Series and NL championship series MVP. "I feel terrible up there.
"Every now and then I'll throw some good at-bats together, get my walk or hit a ball hard, but nothing's really working."
Russell Martin had two of Pittsburgh's four home runs, Garrett Jones had three hits and John McDonald added a key RBI double. The Pirates ended rookie Shelby Miller's streak of 14 scoreless innings at home to start the season and have won nine of 12 overall.
Locke (3-1) has worked 13 scoreless innings while allowing five hits his last two starts. The Cardinals got just three singles and advanced two runners into scoring position against the 25-year-old left-hander, who earned the fifth spot in the rotation with a strong spring.
Justin Wilson allowed a walk the last two innings to wrap up the Pirates' fifth shutout, tied for the league lead with St. Louis and San Francisco. All of them have been collaborations.
Miller (3-2) struggled to put away hitters and was taken out after 113 pitches and giving up two homers in 5 2-3 innings. He struck out seven, one off his season best, and was charged with three runs after John McDonald greeted Fernando Salas with a bloop RBI double.
Left fielder Matt Holliday took a circuitous route and just missed a diving catch with the ball deflecting off his left wrist, and Brandon Inge scored from first on a close play at the plate for a 3-0 lead.
Martin hit his fourth homer with a 412-foot drive to straightaway center in the second. He doubled off the right-field fence in the fourth for his fourth straight extra-base hit, two of them homers, then added a two-run shot to cap a five-run ninth.
It was the seventh career multi-homer game and first since June 10, 2012, for the Yankees against the Mets for Martin, who's hitting .409 since April 15.
Tabata lined a 2-2 pitch over the right-field wall in the fifth for his first homer, giving him a hit in 21 of 23 career games at Busch Stadium.
Jones' second homer and first in 50 at-bats since April 8 barely cleared Shane Robinson's leaping attempt the wall in the seventh to make it 4-0. First base umpire Laz Diaz initially ruled no homer, but it was quickly overturned after the Pirates appealed.