ST. LOUIS — There were at least three pieces of good news Sunday after the St. Louis Cardinals lost 6-3 in 19 innings to Pittsburgh.
First, they were idle Monday, giving their bruised psyches and fatigued bullpen adequate recovery time.
Second, left-hander Jaime Garcia was dominant in his return from the disabled list. In his first start since June 5, he allowed two unearned runs and fanned a career-best 10 in eight innings.
Third, the Houston Astros are at Busch Stadium for a three-game series that begins at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday. At 39-83, the Astros own the worst record in baseball.
Manager Mike Matheny had no problem with his team's effort Sunday. But the Cardinals managed just 11 hits against eight pitchers and were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
"We didn't have a whole lot of hits the whole game," he said. "There were a lot of guys fighting to put a good ball in play. You do what you can to try to make something happen.
"The guys played hard. They did. They fought. I'm proud of the way they went about it. I really would have liked to walk out of there with a win. But I like the way they play the game."
The Cardinals, who are 3-9 in extra-inning games, fell two games behind the Pirates for the second wild-card spot. They are eight games behind first-place Cincinnati in the NL Central after the Reds lost 12-5 to Philadelphia on Monday.
St. Louis inched within 1 1/2 games of Pittsburgh on Monday when the Pirates lost 3-1 to San Diego.
Houston arrives in St. Louis under new interim manager Tony DeFrancesco. First-year Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' former vice president of scouting and player development, fired Brad Mills on Saturday.
The Astros also have shaved more than $49 million from their payroll with trades of left fielder Carlos Lee and pitchers Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and Brandon Lyon. Rodriguez was the Pirates' winning pitcher Sunday with a two-inning relief stint.
Infielder Tyler Greene, acquired by the Astros from the Cardinals for cash on Aug. 9, is batting .355 (11-for-31) with three doubles, two home runs and four RBIs in nine games with his new team. Greene, playing mostly at shortstop, has four two-hit games.
Strikeouts plagued Greene with the Cardinals, and despite his production with Houston, he has fanned 10 times -- once every 3.1 at-bats. He has yet to coax his first walk.
First baseman Brett Wallace, the Cardinals' first-round draft pick (13th overall) in 2008 who was traded to Oakland in 2009 in the package to acquire Matt Holliday, is batting .293 (27-for-92) with five homers and 11 RBIs in 28 games.
Pitching matchups for the series are: Lucas Harrell (10-8, 3.81 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (11-10, 3.87 ERA), Monday; Bud Norris (5-10, 5.23 ERA) vs. Kyle Lohse (12-2, 2.61 ERA), 7:15 p.m. Wednesday; and Dallas Keuchel (1-5, 4.99 ERA) vs. Jake Westbrook (12-9, 3.50 ERA), 12:45 p.m. Thursday.
Norris is 7-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 12 career starts against the Cardinals. He is 19-31 with a 4.90 ERA against all other teams.
Garcia could be a bright spot as the Cardinals move forward. He was confident and aggressive against the Pirates, who had difficulty making solid connection.
"I liked the way the ball was coming out of his hands and how they were reacting to him," Matheny said. "You could just see (they) forgot how nasty his stuff was. (He got) so many mis-hits."
Garcia was pleased with his showing, but unhappy about the game.
"I felt good physically," he said. "The arm felt good. I felt like I was able to do a good job, but we didn't get the win."
Garcia threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 28 batters he faced and recorded 11 ground-ball outs.
"It was pretty much being able to get ahead in the count," Garcia said. "Get strike one and use my fastball on both sides of the plate. That kind of sets up your offspeed (pitches) better."
Joe Kelly, who made 12 starts in Garcia's absence, worked 5 2/3 innings in relief Sunday, throwing 87 pitches.
"It was a different feeling," Kelly said. "I just took it inning by inning. I didn't know how many innings I was going to go. Every time they said, 'You're going back out there,' I was like, 'All right.' I was just trying to make pitches and keep the ballgame tied."
Kelly was charged with the Pirates' 17th-inning run that put them ahead 4-3. The run scored on Garrett Jones' bases-loaded infield single off the glove of Marc Rzepczynski.
The Cardinals extended the game on Tony Cruz's sacrifice fly against Juan Cruz in their half of the 17th.
Pittsburgh finally won with three in the 19th. Pedro Alvarez homered against Barret Browning to make it 4-3 and Andrew McCutchen added a two-run single three batters later.
The game was the longest in the major leagues this season in innings. It matched the longest game in time (6 hours, 7 minutes).