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Cards fall after Holland blows first save chance

Special to MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny handed closer Greg Holland the ball and a juicy opportunity to grab his first save of the season in his first chance.

Holland, who led the National League in saves in 2017, was unable to seize the moment on Friday night at PNC Park. After scoring twice in the sixth to carve into a five-run deficit, the Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth off Holland to force extra innings.

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PITTSBURGH -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny handed closer Greg Holland the ball and a juicy opportunity to grab his first save of the season in his first chance.

Holland, who led the National League in saves in 2017, was unable to seize the moment on Friday night at PNC Park. After scoring twice in the sixth to carve into a five-run deficit, the Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth off Holland to force extra innings.

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The Bucs won, 6-5, in the 11th, when David Freese scored from third base on Starling Marte's two-out single off Jordan Hicks.

Video: STL@PIT: Marte lines a walk-off single in the 11th

Holland signed a one-year contract worth $14 million on March 31. This was the first time in 2018 that he pitched back-to-back days. Holland gave up two doubles and a single, and first baseman Jose Martinez's error on a hard ground ball also fueled the collapse.

Jordy Mercer's two-run double tied the game. It was a difficult play for center fielder Tommy Pham -- the drive sailed over his head even though he was playing deeper than usual -- but still a catchable ball.

Video: STL@PIT: Mercer ties the game on a double, error

Holland blamed only himself.

"I felt good," he said. "I just didn't make enough quality pitches to get out of the inning."

Holland had a rough start while adjusting to his new team, but was solid of late. He said he still believes he's headed in the right direction.

"Just because you give up a run doesn't mean you're in a bad spot," he said. "The other team's hitters, they're paid to hit."

As for missing Spring Training, he said, "It was a pretty seamless transition. It's a good clubhouse. I feel good. I feel healthy. I felt good bouncing back today. I never got into the Spring Training thing. I just wasn't sharp. I feel I've executed pretty well. Today I just didn't do it enough ... It was just one of those days."

The comeback overshadowed another strong performance by Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas, who is emerging as one of the feel-good pitching stories of the 2018 season.

After three uneventful seasons with the Padres and Rangers (and the Pirates, with whom he never appeared at the big league level), the right-hander had three successful years in Japan. Back in the big leagues after signing a two-year, $15.5 million deal, Mikolas lowered his ERA to 3.27 on Friday, but his record remains 3-0.

Mikolas held the Pirates to two runs and six hits in seven innings, striking out seven with no walks. In 33 innings, he has struck out 27 batters and walked two. It was his third straight seven-inning outing.

"I felt my fastball command was really good for me today," he said. "There were a few innings I was really able to move the fastball in and out, get some good ground balls, let my defense work."

Video: STL@PIT: Mikolas escapes bases-loaded jam in the 2nd

Matt Bowman pitched out of jams in the ninth and 10th innings to preserve the tie, but the Cardinals didn't help themselves in the 11th when pinch-runner Harrison Bader was doubled off first base on Kolten Wong's line out to right field.

Video: STL@PIT: Bowman fans Mercer in the 10th inning

Marcell Ozuna had three of the Cardinals' seven hits, two singles and a double, and drove in a pair of runs. Jedd Gyorko added his second home run of the season, a solo shot off starter Steven Brault.

Video: STL@PIT: Ozuna hits his second RBI single of the game

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Stingy sixth: The Bucs scored two runs in the sixth against a dominant Mikolas to set the stage for their late-innings comeback. Mikolas had already pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second inning -- and had thrown 69 pitches through five innings and retired 11 of 12 hitters. But he allowed a solo home run to Gregory Polanco and a sacrifice fly to Corey Dickerson, bringing the Bucs within three runs.

HE SAID IT
"He was fantastic. It felt like he was in control the entire time. Had the strikeout stuff to go along with pounding the strike zone. Good life on the fastball. Didn't even have to get to his breaking ball until later in the game. The changeup, the cutter, everything was sharp. Another very, very good outing for him." -- Matheny, on Mikolas

UP NEXT
On Saturday, rookie right-hander Jack Flaherty again replaces veteran Adam Wainwright (disabled list, right elbow inflammation) in the Cards' rotation, taking the mound for the 6:05 p.m. CT start. The first time, on April 3, Flaherty struck out nine and walked one in five innings, yielding one run in the Cards' 5-4 loss to Milwaukee. In between big league starts, Flaherty was brilliant at Triple-A Memphis (3-0, 2.25 ERA). The Pirates will send right-hander Trevor Williams to the hill.

Bob Cohn is a contributor to MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

St. Louis Cardinals