PITTSBURGH -- A day after the Cardinals broke through against a pitcher that repeatedly gave them fits last season, the Pirates found a way to down St. Louis' ace with a just-as-good performance from a pitcher who posted a 5.71 ERA in 2013 and struggled all spring.
Baseball can be funny like that.
The Cardinals did not, however, exit Pittsburgh amused Sunday, but rather frustrated by an opportunity missed to kick off the season with a winning road trip. A pair of run-scoring, two-out doubles turned an otherwise strong effort from Adam Wainwright into a 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh. That's because the Cardinals did even less against right-hander Edinson Volquez, who entered with a career ERA of 5.56 against St. Louis.
"A flat-out gem," was how Pirates manager Clint Hurdle described it afterward. "He matched Wainwright for the entire time he was out there. It was a very big confidence builder -- for him, the team."
Pirates backup catcher Tony Sanchez delivered the game-winning blow with a double in the seventh, scoring Pedro Alvarez from first to position Pittsburgh for a series win in front of 25,704 at PNC Park. This was the fourth of the six games played by the Cardinals to be decided by one run. Included among those four are both of Wainwright's starts.
"When you're playing tough teams, rivalry teams, like we did today, especially here in Pittsburgh, it's going to be very tough," Wainwright said. "It comes down to a couple of plays turned the game. A walk followed by a ball in the middle of the plate is usually a pretty bad sequence. It's two things I usually don't do a whole lot of."
While Wainwright wasn't as stingy as he was in his Opening Day start -- one in which he covered seven scoreless innings -- his troubles Sunday had much to do with run support.
Volquez, the newest member of the Pirates' rotation, garnered 16 consecutive outs after allowing a leadoff single to Matt Carpenter. He was aided by aggressive defensive shifting in the infield and was unpredictable in his pitch sequencing.
It kept Volquez toe-to-toe with the Cardinals' ace.
"I thought he did a good job," Cardinals outfielder Allen Craig said. "He had a good fastball today and his offspeed [pitches] were around the plate. He has good stuff and pitched pretty well today."
The Cardinals eventually got to Volquez in the sixth, tying the game with an RBI triple by Jon Jay, who was making the center-field start in place of Peter Bourjos. The run-scoring hit rewarded Carpenter for his hustle, as the inning was extended, only because Carpenter beat out a potential inning-ending double play.
But St. Louis' chances to extend the rally went down with Matt Adams. He struck out swinging against Tony Watson, who relieved Volquez to give the Pirates the left-on-left matchup they desired.
It was the start of stingy relief by the Pirates' bullpen, which allowed only one baserunner (via a walk) in 3 1/3 innings. Closer Jason Grilli erased that runner by getting Matt Holliday to ground into a ninth-inning double play.
"They've got a talented club and the guys in the 'pen," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We've seen a lot of them. We know what we have to deal with if we let the game get to that point."
Wainwright was effective and efficient from the get-go but also forced to adjust his pitching plan when he struggled to find the feel for his cutter. He described the pitch as "sloppy and big and loopy, rather than tight and short like it normally is," and that looseness hurt him in both of the Pirates' run-scoring innings.
Reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen stirred Wainwright's first serious bit of trouble with a one-out double in the fourth. Left fielder Holliday ran down Alvarez's hard-hit ball to left-center, but Craig couldn't do the same when Neil Walker sliced a double to right off a cutter.
McCutchen scored easily to give the Pirates the early one-run lead.
The cutter abandoned Wainwright again in the seventh, which contributed to Alvarez's five-pitch walk.
"You never want to put the leadoff guy on, especially late in the game with some heavy hitters behind him still," Wainwright said. "I wanted to get ahead, and I did with strike one. Then I probably picked on the corners a little too much there."
Alvarez's walk was one of two Wainwright issued on the afternoon. Last season, he walked 34 in 33 starts. This year, Wainwright has already walked four in 14 innings.
Sanchez's two-out double then came on a four-seam fastball. Sanchez said afterward that he was anticipating the cutter, fearing the curveball but was nevertheless able to catch up to the 90-mph fastball.
"Genuine jubilation," Sanchez added. "I was so excited. As the ball came off the bat, I knew it was going to get in the gap. It was just a matter of Pedro being fast enough to score, and he was busting his butt the entire way."
Still, Wainwright pitched enough to deserve better -- and he typically has. In his previous 21 starts of at least seven innings in which he gave up two or fewer runs, the Cardinals had won 20 of them. This would be another rare exception.
"He did a real nice job keeping us right there," Matheny said. "That's a game that when your ace does that, you feel like you need to walk out of here with a win."
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.