ST. LOUIS -- Behind seven shutout innings from Jaime Garcia and with the help of one beneficial bounce, the Cardinals nabbed a 4-1 win over the Pirates at Busch Stadium on Saturday. The victory boosted the Cardinals' National League Central lead to 6 1/2 games over Pittsburgh, which now sits just three games in front of the pursuant Cubs for the top NL Wild Card spot.
"It's big," Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said of the series-evening win. "[Sunday], if we can win that game and come out of this deal up 7 1/2 with 26 games left, that's important. At the same time, we can't look ahead. All we can do is come out and play tomorrow, take this one game at a time, because we know they're not going to quit."
The Cardinals are 6-2 against the Pirates at home this year and have won each of Garcia's last seven starts. Seven-hole hitter Sean Rodriguez gave Garcia some fits -- Rodriguez went 3-for-3 against him -- but the Cardinals' lefty otherwise limited the Pirates to one hit while striking out a season-high nine.
"Same story: When I get a pitch to hit, I haven't been missing it," said Rodriguez, an occasional starter who had six consecutive hits across three games until striking out against Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth.
Garcia received all the support he needed with the Cardinals' two-run second off Pirates starter Charlie Morton, who is winless in his last 12 starts (postseason included) against St. Louis. With a pair of walks and a hit batter, the Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs in the second and then scored twice with the aid of a Stephen Piscotty infield single and bounced throw from second baseman Josh Harrison.
Morton allowed just two other baserunners over the rest of his six-inning start. Behind him, reliever Arquimedes Caminero served up a two-run blast to Carpenter that cushioned the Cardinals' lead.
"His mix of pitches, rhythm and pace were good," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "I was very pleased with his outing. He pitched very effectively, a job well done."
The Pirates scored a run off Rosenthal in the ninth, but pinch-hitter Gregory Polanco struck out with runners on first and second to end the game.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Garcia is golden: Garcia ran into little resistance en route to winning for the eighth time in 15 starts. He allowed only one baserunner to reach third, that being Rodriguez, who doubled and then advanced an extra base on a wild pitch in the seventh. But with runners on the corners, Garcia wrapped up that inning (and his start) by inducing a ground ball out off the bat of Harrison. More >
"Maybe a little bit of adrenaline, excitement," Garcia said of pitching in a key series against Pittsburgh. "But at the same time, you try not to think about those things. Going into this game, I knew it was going to be a tough challenge. I know the kind of year they're having and the lineup they have over there."
"He's an experienced guy, with excellent command," Hurdle said. "He flashed the fastball in, spun the ball down, threw soft away. He challenges your discipline as much as anybody."
Bounced: Beneficiaries of one of the most legendary bad hops in history -- see Tony Kubek, Game 7, eighth inning, 1960 World Series -- the Pirates were on the other end of a fortuitous bounce in the second inning. Second baseman Harrison was set to field Piscotty's two-out grounder when the ball top-spinned on the hard ground and took off. Harrison leaped to glove it, but his hurried throw skipped past first base, compounding the infield single with an error and resulting in two runs. More >
"I was putting myself in position to handle a hop chest-high and make the throw. Then it took that crazy bounce, and my body wasn't in any position to get enough on the throw," Harrison said.
Carpenter connects: A day after he showed off the new purple golf cart teammate Adam Wainwright bought him for reaching the 20-homer milestone, Carpenter padded his team's lead by connecting for No. 21. Carpenter's two-run blast off Caminero in the seventh was the Cardinals' first hit since the third and secured a team-best 40th multi-hit game for the third baseman.
"He's just continuing to impress us with how he's able to drive the ball when he gets into those counts and his swing feels right," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
"I'm not trying to read too much into that. I'm just trying to go up there and have good at-bats. The one hit I had today was probably the ball I hit the least hard, but that's just how the game goes sometimes." -- Piscotty, whose infield single extended his hitting streak to 12 games, the longest by a Cardinals rookie since Jon Jay (2010)
"He had us out in front -- a lot of chases, not a lot of hard contact. He controlled our bat speed. We fell victim to the same stuff he's been doing. His numbers are real. We kept having the same at-bat throughout the day." -- Hurdle, on the spell cast by Garcia over the Buccos' lineup
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With their 32nd sellout of the season, the Cardinals eclipsed the three-million attendance mark for the 12th consecutive season. The Cardinals have drawn over three million fans 19 times in franchise history.
This weekend marks the anniversary of the last time the Pirates won consecutive road games against NL Central competition. They have played 33 games in NL Central cities since topping off a series sweep in Wrigley Field with wins on Sept. 6-7, 2014.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Cardinals were unsuccessful in challenging a safe call by third-base umpire Eric Cooper when Rodriguez advanced to third on a wild pitch in the seventh. Though Carpenter applied a tag when Rodriguez's foot came off the base, Cooper ruled that Carpenter's glove pushed Rodriguez off. That judgment call is not reviewable. What the review did confirm was that Rodriguez's left foot touched third base before Carpenter's tag was applied. Rodriguez was nevertheless stranded there to end the inning.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates:Gerrit Cole (15-8, 2.64 ERA) tries to nail down a series win for the Pirates when he takes the Busch Stadium mound in the 8:05 p.m. ET game on Sunday. MLB's top winner for much of the season, Cole will seek his second win in his last eight starts and enhance his lifetime 8-2 record in September.
Cardinals:John Lackey (11-8, 2.87 ERA), whose 2.25 ERA since June 15 ranks fifth-best in the Majors, will start against Cole in the series finale on Sunday at 7:05 p.m. CT.