ST. LOUIS -- A showcase matchup between two of the game's top young pitchers resulted in another close game between the National League Central's best teams -- but not a crisp one. Defensive miscues dotted the evening at Busch Stadium, though it was the Pirates who gave away a little bit more and, as a result, dropped seven games behind the division-leading Cardinals with St. Louis' 4-2 win on Wednesday.
The victory improved the Cardinals to 5-0 against the Pirates at home this season and 7-5 overall against their closest challenger.
Thanks to three straight hits -- including an RBI triple by Yadier Molina and an RBI single from Stephen Piscotty -- off Pirates starter Gerrit Cole in the sixth, Cardinals starter Michael Wacha handed a two-run lead to a bullpen that retired all nine batters it faced. Wacha, whose streak of 17 scoreless innings was snapped with Andrew McCutchen's solo homer in the fourth, allowed two runs over his six-inning start.
That was good enough for him to become the National League's second 14-game winner -- matching the total already reached by his Wednesday opponent. The Pirates' defense did little to help Cole pursue No. 15. Pittsburgh committed two errors and another two misplays behind Cole to help the Cardinals to all four of their runs.
"We made [Cole] work a little bit early, too," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He and Michael both were going side by side [in] the kind of matchup that people in baseball and unbiased fans were anticipating."
Cole exited after 5 1/3 innings with a pitch count of 106.
"These guys are out there giving 100 percent every night," Cole said. "Playing a tough team magnifies any mistakes you make. It's frustrating for us as a whole. Nobody wants to come out and not play sharp against these guys."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Motorin' Molina: In one of the more improbable outcomes of his at-bat against Cole in the sixth inning, Molina delivered a go-ahead RBI triple that rolled all the way to the right-field wall after skipping past Gregory Polanco. Molina, who entered the season with three career triples, now has two game-winning ones in the last 22 days. He showed off his speed again two innings later by stealing third after a one-out double.
"It's been a while since I've had fun like this," Molina said of his eventful night, which also included him throwing out Polanco from his knees in the first inning. "It's good to have fun like that, especially when you win games." More >
"You would have liked to keep that ball in front of you, so the worst situation you're looking at is [men on] first and second," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Polanco, who fell short in his attempt to make a shoestring catch. "He tried to make the play, but there's another way to make it."
RISP-y business: A squandered chance in the fourth inning was emblematic of the Pirates' ongoing struggles in Busch Stadium. McCutchen's homer was followed by singles by Aramis Ramirez and Jung Ho Kang. But the rally died right there, as Neil Walker popped out, Pedro Alvarez flied out and, after Francisco Cervelli walked to load the bases, Cole struck out. The Pirates went 0-for-10 with men in scoring position on Wednesday and are 4-for-44 in five games this season in Busch Stadium.
Faulty footing: Cardinals center fielder Randal Grichuk had a costly flop in the fifth inning, as his feet appeared to get tangled up while he tracked McCutchen's hard line drive. Grichuk couldn't recover, stumbling into an awkward dive. McCutchen's hit rolled past Grichuk for a game-tying triple.
"I was going to try [to dive]," Grichuk said. "[The ball] kind of started dying. I tried to stay on my feet and couldn't. I tried to bat it down and couldn't. It's not a good feeling, that's for sure." More >
"We've got to figure out a way to play better, that's it. We've had the lead in four of the five games here, came back and tied this game up. We're doing things to stay in the hunt but are not finishing." -- Hurdle, on the Pirates' 0-5 record at Busch Stadium
"I was just trying to see a strike and fouled off some tough pitches. I was able to work the walk there, and guys behind me put the ball in play and made their defense work." -- Wacha, on drawing a leadoff walk to spark a two-run rally in the third inning
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Molina became the first Cardinals catcher to hit a double, a triple and steal a base in the same game since Mickey Owens did so against the Brooklyn Dodgers on June 7, 1939.
After retiring all three men he faced in the seventh inning, Pittsburgh lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo has held batters to an .071 average in his last 10 appearances.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Pirates unsuccessfully challenged a safe call at first base in the third inning, and it directly led to the Cardinals' first two runs. With runners on first and second and one out, Jhonny Peralta beat out a grounder to second when Alvarez's foot came off the base. Upon review, the call was confirmed, leaving the bases loaded -- and Jason Heyward hit the very next pitch into a force at second to score one run, and another scored on Walker's errant relay throw to first.
Molina was awarded his second stolen base of the season after the Cardinals successfully challenged an out call by third-base umpire Adam Hamari in the eighth. Replay showed that although the throw beat Molina to the base, he got his foot in before Ramirez applied the tag.
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte exited the game at the start of the bottom of the third with discomfort in his left hand, and he was being treated and further evaluated. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates:Francisco Liriano, looking to stay unbeaten since late June and hoping to salvage the final game of the series for the Bucs, takes on the Cardinals on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. ET. The Pirates will most likely be without Marte, a .381 lifetime hitter against scheduled St. Louis starter Lance Lynn.
Cardinals: Lynn will try to become the Cardinals' third 10-game winner when he starts for St. Louis in Thursday's series finale at 6:15 p.m. CT. Lynn's run support average of 3.11 ranks sixth lowest in the National League, but he has a 2.15 home ERA this season.