Jason Isringhausen and Ron Villone allowed a total of seven runs in the last two innings Thursday on a rain-soaked afternoon at Busch Stadium. Just as bad, starter Joel Pineiro let most of a 5-1 lead slip away in a three-run fifth that got the Pirates back in the game.
And so it is that La Russa is still at 2,399 and the Cardinals have lost seven of their last nine games.
Given the hot-button nature of the Isringhausen issue, the defrocked closer's latest meltdown in a four-run eighth drew most of the attention afterward. Isringhausen contributed to his own demise by walking the leadoff man, Doug Mientkiewicz. He also threw wildly to third, where he had a sure forceout after he picked up a poor sacrifice bunt attempt by Chris Gomez, and then allowed a three-run pinch homer to Jason Bay.
"I think there will be a lot of focus on the eighth inning on Izzy, and there's no doubt he didn't do well," La Russa said. "But the fifth inning ... that was a big 'let-them-back-in-the-game' inning, and Joel's not happy with the way he pitched it.
"We had a chance to add in the bottom of the seventh, and we didn't advance the runner (Adam Kennedy fanned trying to sacrifice with two runners on) and we didn't get anybody home. There's other pieces besides the eighth inning."
La Russa seemed particularly unhappy with the fifth-inning effort of Pineiro.
"I think he was strong enough," the manager said. "Sometimes I think you get distracted by the fifth inning. You're three outs away from the victory, you've got a four-run lead and your concentration's not in making pitches and staying aggressive.
"I don't know. He wasn't the same in the fifth inning."
PIRATES 11, CARDINALS 5: The Cardinals lost for the sixth time when leading after seven innings. That roughly corresponds to the six blown saves by Jason Isringhausen, who made a throwing error and tossed a three-run home run ball to Jason Bay in a four-run eighth inning that erased a 5-4 St. Louis lead. Wasted were a second consecutive three-hit day by Troy Glaus and two hits and two RBIs by Chris Duncan.
--RHP Jason Isringhausen, who suffered his fifth loss Thursday, is no closer to resuming the closer's job he gave up a week ago. Isringhausen allowed four runs without finishing the eighth inning, and manager Tony La Russa said, "It was rough. He just had a very, very tough inning. Right now, he's problem No. 1."
Isringhausen said, among other things, he was trying to make "the perfect pitch. And you can't make the perfect pitch."
A move the Cardinals likely will make to shore up their bullpen is to bring up right-handed closer Chris Perez from Class AAA Memphis. What happens to Isringhausen is unclear. Even though he hasn't complained of injury, the oft-injured right-hander theoretically could be disabled for any number of things or, as a longshot, he ultimately could even be asked to work out his problems in the minors.
--The Cardinals were 18-2 when outhitting their opponents before losing Thursday when they had 14 hits to 13 for the Pirates.
--The Cardinals have had 29 hits in the last two games -- 26 singles and three doubles. They have stranded 28 runners in that time, including 13 on Thursday. "I'm not giving our offense a pass," manager Tony La Russa said.
--1B Albert Pujols appeared to have a problem with a balky hamstring but played nine innings and had two singles Thursday. He extended his hitting streak to 14 games and his on-base streak to 42 -- all the games the Cardinals have played this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 292 -- Career saves by RHP Jason Isringhausen before he temporarily, at least, was supplanted as the Cardinals' closer.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm pitching like a second grader." -- RHP Jason Isringhausen after blowing his fifth save in 16 opportunities.