The Texas Rangers already had four straight two-out singles in the ninth inning, putting the potential tying run at third base for Adrian Beltre.
The slugger struck out on three pitches, though, and the Rangers kept sliding with a 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
"It's just a matter of getting a hit in the right situation. We just haven't been able to put it together here," manager Ron Washington said. "We know what (Beltre's) track record is and what he's capable of doing. He's a guy who always rises to a challenge. I'm looking forward to him coming back."
Beltre, a .318 hitter, already had two hits and an RBI before his final at-bat.
The Rangers, who still need another victory for their fifth consecutive winning season, will lose their fourth series in a row no matter what happens in Wednesday's finale against the NL wild-card leader. Texas has lost seven of its last nine games, but remained two games back in the AL West with Oakland's loss to Minnesota.
Pittsburgh scored three runs with four consecutive two-out hits in the fifth off rookie left-hander Martin Perez (9-4), who had won his previous six starts since the beginning of August.
Pirates reliever Mark Melancon struck out pinch-hitters David Murphy and Mitch Moreland to start the ninth.
Leonys Martin then singled, went to second on defensive indifference and scored on Ian Kinsler's single. Elvis Andrus singled before an RBI hit for Alex Rios got the Rangers within a run. Beltre took the first pitch before swinging at the next two.
"He got one of the best hitters in the game out to finish it off," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Two outs, and nobody on base, and before you know it, you've got a game out there, you've got a nail-biter on your hands at the end. ... At the end of the day, he struck out the side, with a little action in between."
Francisco Liriano pitched six innings for his career-high 16th victory and Andrew McCutchen had three RBI singles for Pittsburgh.
A night after victory No. 82 ensured the Pirates' first winning season since 1992, they got a series-clinching victory and stayed within a game of NL Central-leading St. Louis.
In the Pittsburgh fifth, Jordy Mercer doubled and scored on McCutchen's second hit. Marlon Byrd then singled before Gaby Sanchez had an RBI double. Byrd scored on a wild pitch.
The 22-year-old Perez is the only Texas rookie to win six consecutive starts, and it was the longest streak for any Rangers pitcher since Kenny Rogers won eight in a row in 2005.
"I missed a couple of pitches up. I was trying to throw in but I was throwing in the middle," Perez said. "You just have to learn something with your losses. Tonight, I learned you have to locate the ball. Fastball location, that's what I'll do for my next start. Nobody's perfect. We needed a win and didn't get it."
Liriano (16-7) struck out five while allowing one run to become the first Pirates left-hander since John Smiley and Zane Smith in 1991 to win more than 15 games.
Texas got a run off Jason Grilli in the eighth, when Rios doubled with two outs and scored on a single by Beltre. Tony Watson took over and allowed a double to A.J. Pierzynski before striking out Jeff Baker to end the inning.
Pittsburgh went up 1-0 in the third when it appeared Tony Sanchez stepped on Pierzynski's foot and never actually touched the plate.
Texas rookie Joey Butler drew a leadoff walk in the fifth and scored on Kinsler's double to center, a ball that went off the glove of McCutchen as he tried to make a sliding backhanded catch.
NOTES: Texas also lost four consecutive series in June. ... The Rangers had been safe on 19 consecutive stolen base attempts until Andrus was caught in the third inning. ... Kinsler's double snapped a 15-inning drought for the Rangers without a run or an extra-base hit. ... There was a disputed double play by Pittsburgh in the fourth. Pierzynski hit a grounder that 1B Gaby Sanchez backhanded while apparently sliding his foot across the base before throwing to second to get Beltre. Pierzynski argued with first base umpire Chad Fairchild before Washington and Beltre joined the discussion.