PITTSBURGH -- As the Cardinals lost their second straight game and the Brewers won their fifth straight on Tuesday, the truth of the National League Central, which was tangled just weeks ago, became very clear.
"If we don't win and Milwaukee doesn't lose, we're not going to win it," Cardinals right fielder Lance Berkman said. "We've got to string something together here. There's still plenty of time to do that. It's not like it's a lost cause. I still feel like we're right there."
They were a bit further back after the 11-inning, 5-4 walk-off loss to the Pirates. The Cardinals are in second place in the division, seven games behind Milwaukee, which has won 17 of its last 19 games.
"It's a tough league," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "If you can't handle it, go home."
The Cardinals had several chances to get a victory before Garrett Jones led off the bottom of the 11th with a game-winning home run against Arthur Rhodes.
With the score tied at 3 in the seventh, Jon Jay singled and advanced to second when Rafael Furcal grounded out. Pirates reliever Jason Grilli intentionally walked Albert Pujols, and then Matt Holliday grounded into a double play.
In the eighth, David Freese singled with one out and Gerald Laird singled and stole second base. Corey Patterson struck out to end the inning.
The Cardinals broke the tie in the top of the ninth, but the Pirates responded with a run in the bottom of the frame.
Jay doubled to begin the inning and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Furcal. After reliever Joel Hanrahan intentionally walked Pujols, Holliday hit a sacrifice fly to center, and Jay scored.
"We did a pretty good job of coming back and tying it, and battling to get ahead, and they did a good job of tying it and battling and getting ahead again," Berkman said.
Neil Walker led off the bottom of the ninth and sent the first pitch he saw from closer Fernando Salas into the seats. It was Salas' fourth blown save of the season and ended his streak of nine consecutive scoreless appearances. He is now 22-for-26 in save situations.
"Right now we need to win," starter Chris Carpenter said. "And we had a chance to tonight and we weren't able to pull through. When you've got this amount of games left and you're six games back and you have a chance to win a game, you need to win it."
The Cardinals' last chance came in the 11th, when Furcal walked with two outs to bring Pujols to the plate. Pujols hit a ball to deep left-center that looked like it would drop for a double, but Andrew McCutchen tracked it well and made a sprinting catch.
"There's not many guys in the game that are going to catch that ball," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There might be three or less. For him to close like that, you can't teach that."
Pujols helped to tie the game earlier in the evening with a solo home run to begin the sixth inning. It was his 30th homer of the season, making him the first player in Major League history to tally at least 30 homers in 11 straight seasons to start a career. Two batters later, Berkman walked and scored on a double by Freese.
Pirates starter Jeff Karstens lasted 5 1/3 innings and allowed three earned runs on six hits. He struck out five.
The Pirates scored three runs in the third inning off a McCutchen home run. Carpenter walked Karstens, and Jose Tabata singled before McCutchen homered to left field.
"You start with me walking the pitcher, which is unacceptable, and I needed to make better pitches to McCutchen," Carpenter said.
Outside of that inning, Carpenter allowed just three hits and had three 1-2-3 innings. He finished seven innings having allowed three runs on five hits. He struck out 10 batters, a season high. He struck out the side in order twice, in the fifth and seventh innings.
"He pitched well," La Russa said. "That one inning, he walked the pitcher, and then the curveball, and there's three runs. He was real good, and he did some good things. But they had the last hero."
The Cardinals won five of seven to begin the month of August but since then have not had any sustained period of wins.
"You've got to get a feel going where every time you take the field you feel like you're going to win the game," Berkman said. "When you win a couple games, you get a little bit of a good feeling going and it can carry over. When you lose a few games, kind of a heavy feeling hits you and you have to figure out how to break it.
"I don't know if there's a magic formula. You just need to get a little momentum."
Laura Myers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.