PHILADELPHIA -- The Pirates knew the road through Atlanta and Philadelphia would be a challenging one, and the result only set up the final two months to be even more so, as the club dug itself into somewhat of a hole in its quest to play in October.
A 6-5 loss to the Phillies in 10 innings on Sunday stung because the Pirates were so close to salvaging a win in the three-game series at Citizens Bank Park. It also left the Pirates staring up at a 4 1/2-game deficit in the National League Central just one week after being tied for the top spot.
Pittsburgh finished the road trip 2-5.
"This road trip was kind of a measuring stick for us" outfielder Matt Diaz said. "There has only been one game we have been out of. We know we can play with what we feel are the two best teams in the National League. But there's one thing between playing with them and beating them."
The Pirates were four outs away from beating baseball's best team before Raul Ibanez's two-run blast off Jose Veras evened the game at 5. Two innings later, Ibanez delivered a game-winning double, giving him a three-hit, four-RBI afternoon.
Of the five losses the Bucs had on this road trip, three came via walk-off hits.
"We didn't have the big out when we needed it in the end," manager Clint Hurdle said. "When we take a two-run lead into the eighth inning, we feel confident with that. No one closes them 100 percent of the time. That one got away from us."
The Pirates used five two-out runs to take a 5-3 lead into the eighth. Starter Jeff Karstens' day was over after seven, and Hurdle handed the ball to Joe Beimel. Beimel was out after allowing a one-out double to Ryan Howard.
In came Veras, who remains one of Hurdle's best late-inning options despite posting a 5.25 ERA through the first 30 days of July. Veras recorded the second out of the inning before Ibanez drilled the first pitch of his at-bat over the right-field wall.
"I don't know how the ball went out," said Veras, who has now blown five saves this season. "It was supposed to be a fly ball, but we're playing here in Philly. Nothing you can do with it. He was hot today."
Ibanez had homered off Karstens in the second inning.
Chris Resop and Tony Watson worked around ninth-inning trouble, before the Phils got to Watson in the 10th. After a one-out double by recently acquired outfielder Hunter Pence, Ibanez sent a liner into the right-field corner.
"Absolute unbelievable day by him," Pence said of Ibanez. "You can look around and any number of these guys can carry you per day, and that's the beauty of it."
The three late unanswered runs by the Phillies wasted a decent showing by the Pirates' offense. Facing a starter who had a 1.14 ERA over his last seven starts, the Pirates got to rookie Vance Worley for four runs.
A two-run single by Xavier Paul gave the Pirates a brief one-run lead in the fifth. After Jimmy Rollins put the Phillies back in front in the bottom half of the frame, first baseman Lyle Overbay tilted the advantage back the Bucs' way with a two-run homer in the sixth.
The home run came in what very well could have been Overbay's final game in a Pittsburgh uniform. His roster spot is in jeopardy following the Trade Deadline acquisition of first baseman Derrek Lee. A roster move will be made upon Lee's arrival in Pittsburgh on Monday.
"I'm not going to lie. It's tough," Overbay said of playing through the distractions. "What are you going to do? You try your best to get out on the field and not kind of think about it, but it's tough to."
The home run was just the second of the month for Overbay, who hadn't driven in a run since July 19.
Pittsburgh pushed its lead to two in the seventh on an RBI double by Garrett Jones.
That all had Karstens in position to earn what would have been his ninth win of the season and third this month. After giving up the solo homer to Ibanez, Karstens limited the damage to Rollins' two-run single in the fifth. He worked around a walk and a hit later in the fifth to keep the Phillies from adding to their lead.
"The two runs on the Rollins ball kind of makes me upset," Karstens said. "I just felt like if I could have made some better pitches, I could have gotten out of that jam a lot better than what I did."
His last two innings were scoreless, and though Karstens' ERA increased with the outing, he still ranks fourth in the NL with a 2.49 mark.
"Karstens was outstanding," Hurdle said. "He just changed speeds. He hit his spots. He pitched very, very well today."
In addition to dropping further behind the Brewers and Cardinals in the Central, the Pirates were unable to seal a winning month. The club fell one win short of having back-to-back winning months for the first time since 1997. The team finished July 13-13 after going 16-11 in June.
The good news for the Bucs is that, in addition to heading home, their next seven games will come against two teams that have worse records than every other NL team besides the Astros -- the Cubs and Padres.
"We've got to keep playing baseball the way we know we can," Karstens said. "And I think we kind of got away from that a little bit in this series. We kind of got a little lazy, a little lackadaisical. We've got to know that we're better than what we're showing."
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.