ST. LOUIS -- Returning to St. Louis for the first time since being stung by three straight walk-off defeats in May, the Pirates once again let a lead -- and a chance to tighten the National League Central race -- slip through their grasp on Tuesday. Instead the Cardinals used a three-run fifth and a gutsy effort by starter Carlos Martinez to nab a 4-3 win and push their division advantage to six games.
"It feels more fun when you play the teams that are going to play you close," said Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward, who contributed a two-hit, two-RBI game. "It's just a good opportunity for everyone to stay on their toes. ... When you win series like these, you can get momentum going."
A game-tying sacrifice fly by Yadier Molina and a two-out go-ahead RBI single from rookie Stephen Piscotty capped the fifth inning, which saw Pirates starter Jeff Locke throw 25 pitches and squander a two-run lead. Locke allowed four runs over five innings to fall to 0-2 against the Cardinals this season.
"I made it easy for them. I didn't throw enough strikes," Locke said. "I didn't set myself up to be in a good position to put anybody away with offspeed pitches. You've got to tip your cap to them for the season they've had, but we definitely feel like we had them stopped in their tracks for a little while."
Martinez, who allowed a run in three of his first four innings, ended up going eight deep (tying a career high) to earn his 12th win of the year. He worked around additional trouble by limiting the Pirates to two hits in nine chances with a runner in scoring position.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Third time's the charm: After stranding five runners with a pair of inning-ending outs earlier in the night, Molina finally delivered in the fifth. His sacrifice fly tied the score at 3 and set up Piscotty's go-ahead RBI single to follow.
"[Molina's sacrifice fly] kind of took some pressure off," said Piscotty, who is now 15-for-31 at Busch Stadium after a three-hit night. "I got big on the first swing there but was able to settle down and get a good pitch."
Locke-d out: Trouble has had a way of caving in on Locke, but he pitched his way out of major straits in the third, when the Cards had the bases loaded with one out. Locke fanned Randal Grichuk and retired Molina on a grounder to second.
"He worked through some hard situations with the leadoff hitter getting on in four of five innings," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's shown some real resiliency in the past." More >
Finishing strong: Martinez finished his 108-pitch start by freezing Jung Ho Kang on a curveball to notch his eighth strikeout of the night. Martinez's night opened ominously, as he allowed three early runs, but he worked around a pair of leadoff singles in the fifth by getting a key double play off Andrew McCutchen's bat, and allowed only two other hits en route to completing the second eight-inning start of his career.
"We were watching swings more than anything else, and you were seeing awkward swings in the eighth," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said when explaining his decision to leave Martinez in to pitch the eighth. "You can tell when that's happening that he has some deception [and] the stuff hadn't backed off." More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Being locked in a tight game was nothing new for these two clubs, which have had seven of their 11 season meetings determined by one run. The Cardinals have won four of those (all at home) and hold a slight overall scoring advantage, with 43 runs to the Pirates' 41. The Pirates have lost a lead in all four games played at Busch Stadium this year. The Cardinals are 16-2 in their last 18 home games against the Pirates.
The Pirates are a Major League-best 24-15 in one-run decisions overall, yet their record in one-run games in NL Central cities is now 1-8, a remarkable discrepancy Hurdle is at a loss to explain.
"The numbers are what they are," Hurdle said. "There's no reason for those numbers being so upside down other than that teams are playing better than us."
"I'm happy about that. I feel confident. This year I came here to work hard, throw as many innings as I can pitch and try to help the Cardinals make it to the World Series." -- Martinez, a first-year starter, on the Cardinals not yet limiting his workload
"It has actually been brought to my attention that this is a big series. The Dodgers last weekend were a big series. When we go to New York next weekend, that'll be a big series. ... That's why they call it the big leagues." -- Hurdle
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
A replay review helped the Cardinals get on the scoreboard in the first inning. What was initially ruled an inning-ending double play when first-base umpire Ron Kulpa called Heyward out was overturned after a review. Heyward was awarded first base and an RBI on the forceout, as Kolten Wong had scored on the play.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates:Gerrit Cole takes his shot at reversing the Bucs' fortunes in Busch Stadium, when he faces the Cardinals on Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. ET. Cole is 0-2 here, both starts coming last season. He held the Cards to one run in seven innings on April 25, then was rocked for five runs in 6 1/3 innings on Sept. 1.
Cardinals:Michael Wacha will seek to join Cole as the National League's only 14-game winners when he faces the Pirates' ace on Wednesday. Wacha will enter the game having thrown 14 straight scoreless innings. He has a 1.42 ERA in two starts against Pittsburgh this season.