ST. LOUIS — Manager Mike Matheny said his St. Louis Cardinals weren't crisp from the start Thursday in a 9-1 loss to Pittsburgh.
Did the pregame news about All-Star catcher Yadier Molina's extended absence have anything to do with it?
"I hope not," Matheny said. "It's not the first time we've been kicked a little bit and realized one of our guys was down. That's just the nature of the game. We have it every year. It's just a matter of whether they let that in or not.
"There's going to be people who make more of this than what we need to. We don't want any of our guys going down, but when someone does, it's next guy up. Who's going to pick up the slack? ... We've got the guys in that room to do it. We have to apply it."
Third baseman Matt Carpenter acknowledged the importance of Molina's everyday presence, but insisted the Cardinals will make no alibis while the torn ligament in Molina's right thumb heals.
"You can make excuses about that kind of thing," Carpenter said. "But we're not going to hang our hat on something like and say, 'Oh, we lost tonight because we found out Yadi's going to be out for a while.' That's certainly not the case.
"He's a hard guy to (replace) and we're certainly upset about it, but we've got to move forward and keep trying to win this division."
The game was tied at 1 after four innings, but Pittsburgh broke it open with three runs in the fifth and four more in the sixth.
The Cardinals (50-43) were unable to complete their first four-game sweep of the Pirates (48-44) in 10 years, but they remained just two games behind first-place Milwaukee, which lost to Philadelphia.
St. Louis begins a three-game series in Milwaukee at 7:10 p.m. Friday to conclude the first half of the season.
"We've got to play a game," Matheny said. "We have a great opportunity walking into Milwaukee. Go play a great game. We get three of them, then we'll give most of our guys a break. We've got to play the kind of baseball we've been playing lately and not like it was tonight."
Shelby Miller lost his third straight decision and remained winless in seven starts since June 7. Miller (7-8) allowed four runs (earned) on five hits, walked four and struck out one in five innings. He threw 92 pitches, 52 for strikes.
"I did a good job with the curveball," Miller said. "I didn't do a good job getting ahead in the count. I fell behind a lot and they did a good job battling to some deep counts. I ended up walking some guys and they took advantage of those situations."
Edinson Volquez (8-6) earned the complete-game win for the Pirates, limiting the Cardinals to six hits. He walked two and struck out five. Volquez is 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his last four starts.
Pittsburgh turned four double plays in support of Volquez. Jon Jay bounced into double plays in the fourth and seventh.
Miller came undone in the fifth.
Jordy Mercer led off with a walk and went to second on Volquez's sacrifice. Gregory Polanco walked, and Josh Harrison advanced Mercer to third with a fly to right.
Andrew McCutchen followed with a single to right that scored Mercer to put Pittsburgh ahead 2-1, and Polanco and McCutchen scored on Neil Walker's two-run double over the head of right fielder Oscar Taveras that made it 4-1.
Things then deteriorated rapidly for the Cardinals, when Tyler Lyons relieved Miller to open the sixth.
Pedro Alvarez reached on a squib single, a play on which Lyons hurt the Cardinals' chances for an out when his throw sailed toward the foul line and couldn't be handled by Matt Adams.
Mercer then hit a tapper back to Lyons, who threw wildly past second for an error, putting runners at first and second.
Volquez popped up a bunt attempt that Carpenter let fall to attempt a double play. Carpenter fired to second base, where no one was covering. But the throw rolled directly to center fielder Jay, who made the pickup and outran Mercer to second for a rare 5-8 forceout.
"I saw the bunt popped up and I noticed Volquez hadn't really gotten out of the box," Carpenter said. "But the mistake I made was forgetting there was nobody at second base. If I let it drop and throw it to third, we have a chance for a double play. But at the last second, I made the wrong throw. We got an out, but it led to a big inning."
Polanco walked to load the bases, and Harrison followed with a ground-rule double to left center to make it 6-1. Tony Cruz's passed ball scored Polanco, and McCutchen's sacrifice fly scored Harrison to make it 8-1.
Russell Martin added a solo homer in the ninth against Jason Motte, extending the Pirates lead to 9-1. Martin had his 500th RBI in the first inning as Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead.
The Cardinals scored their only run in the third on Carpenter's sacrifice fly that scored Kolten Wong, who reached on a bunt single, stolen second and went to third on Miller's sacrifice.