ST. LOUIS -- Jason Bay's first pinch-hit homer delivered the latest jolt of anguish to Jason Isringhausen.
Bay's three-run shot off the St. Louis Cardinals' struggling reliever, working the eighth inning instead of the ninth, was the go-ahead blow in the Pittsburgh Pirates' rally from an early four-run deficit in an 11-5 victory Thursday. It also brought manager Tony La Russa's fear to fruition -- you can't hide anyone for long in the bullpen.
"Right now, he's problem No. 1," La Russa said. "He's beside himself, puzzled, the whole thing."
Isringhausen, saddled with an 8.00 ERA and six blown saves in 17 chances, seemed to think he wouldn't be part of the bullpen for this weekend's interleague series against the Rays. He reiterated that the problem is not physical, so that would leave a minor league demotion or an outright release as options if the Cardinals have lost patience with him.
"I'm out of answers, out of excuses so to speak," Isringhausen said. "We've just got to go to the next step, whatever that might be. I expect probably an answer tomorrow when we get here or even tonight, I don't know."
Nate McLouth added his 11th homer for the Pirates, who outscored the sagging Cardinals 10-0 the last five innings to take two of three in the series. The finale was played in 56-degree chill accompanied by steady rain throughout the comeback, with nearly 10,000 no-shows in paid attendance of 41,244.
"We know we're in the game until it's over," Pirates manager John Russell said. "Our pitching gives us the opportunity to score late in the game."
Bay, who has started all but two of the Pirates' 41 games, had a feeling he might get a partial day off after Pittsburgh closed the deficit to a run in the fifth. He would have been happy with a sacrifice fly with runners on second and third, but got a pitch that probably caught more of the plate than Isringhausen wanted.
"I fully anticipated getting in at some point," Bay said. "I wasn't expecting to do that. When it went out, I was like, 'Wow!'"
Troy Glaus had three hits and an RBI, and Albert Pujols extended his hitting streak to 14 games for the Cardinals, who failed to put the game away against Ian Snell. St. Louis had 11 hits during Snell's four-inning stint but only a 5-1 lead while stranding eight runners.
The Cardinals stranded 13 runners a day after leaving 15 on -- one off their season high -- in a 5-1 victory. They lead the major leagues in runners left on, and have lost seven of nine.
Isringhausen (1-5) was demoted from the closer's role last week and had been serving as the setup man for Ryan Franklin for a variety of reasons. Mike Parisi was held back in case Kyle Lohse, who skipped his bullpen session on Thursday due to shoulder soreness, can't make his next start on Sunday. Russ Springer pitched the previous two days and La Russa went to his bullpen early after Joel Pineiro faltered in the fifth. The manager had already used Kyle McClellan and Randy Flores.
"If we're playing games with a chance to win, the guys in the bullpen are all important," La Russa said. "If you have games that are getting away from you, it's different.
"You can only do so much not to use Izzy in a situation."
Bay is 2-for-11 with a pair of homers against Isringhausen and 2-for-12 for his career as a pinch hitter after lofting his eighth homer, and the first pinch-hit shot of his career, just beyond the left-field wall and out of the grasp of a staggering Chris Duncan on a 1-2 pitch for an 8-5 lead.
"I hit one way better than that last night," Bay said. "You take what you can get."
Isringhausen's throwing error on a bunt, a wild attempt to get the lead runner at third, allowed the tying run to score. The 35-year-old right-hander, who was 32-for-34 in save chances last year, lasted one-third of an inning and was charged with four runs -- three earned.
John Grabow (3-1) got two outs in the seventh for the Pirates, who nailed down their eighth victory in 10 games with three more runs in the ninth off Ron Villone.
Pujols was 2-for-5, also extending his streak of reaching base in all 42 of his games to start the season. Duncan had a two-run double in a three-run fourth that put the Cardinals ahead 5-1.
Snell, who allowed five runs in four innings, is 0-2 in his last six starts. The Pirates reduced a four-run deficit to one with a three-run fifth highlighted by Jason Michaels' two-run double off Pineiro.
Doug Mientkiewicz got a spot start for Pittsburgh and was 3-for-3 with two walks. He also scored three times.
Pujols is batting .340 (17-for-50) during his hitting streak, below his .357 average overall. ... Glaus has an RBI in three straight games after going 12 games without one. He was 8-for-14 in the series. ... Snell's outing was his shortest since he also lasted four innings in a road loss to the Mets on July 24, 2007.