ST. LOUIS -- September stalwart Gerrit Cole and Pittsburgh native Neil Walker teamed up before a late offensive eruption sealed a 7-1 Pirates win over the Cardinals on Sunday night, keeping the Pirates' hearts beating strong in the National League Central race.
The victory sealed the Pirates' first series win in Busch Stadium since April 26-28, 2013, and moved them within 5 1/2 games of division-leading St. Louis. The teams have three meetings remaining, Sept. 28-30 in PNC Park.
"Until you're mathematically out, you're in," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, whose club also took the last three games between the contenders in Pittsburgh.
Walker drove in the game's first run with a fourth-inning single, and Cole ran his lifetime September record to 9-2 with two-hit ball over seven shutout innings and an RBI single before the Bucs' offense sealed the win with three homers in the final two innings.
"We didn't think of it as a big game," Cole said. "We came out with the mindset that we had a job to do: Win and have a happy flight [to Cincinnati, the last stop of their three-city trip]. We played a great game. It wasn't just me. We grinded out [John Lackey]."
Cole walked three and fanned seven in outdueling Lackey, who departed after surrendering an eighth-inning homer to Aramis Ramirez. Lackey went 7 1/3 innings and allowed three runs.
"He was good," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Lackey. "You look at how they got those two runs, two outs and hits that just made their way over the infield. That's all we really had against Cole, too, were hits that barely got over the infield. Theirs just happened to be in situations with guys in scoring position that ended up giving them enough. I thought both guys threw the ball exceptionally well."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED It's out of the bag: Cole was such a cool customer, he even shrugged off a rosin shower. After completing his warmup pitches in the bottom of the seventh, he bent to pick up the rosin bag and dry his hand -- and it came apart, white rosin flying everywhere. Cole promptly pointed out the problem to third-base ump Gary Cederstrom, who waved for a new bag -- then proceeded to retire the side in order on 11 pitches to finish his night's work. More >
Lackey lacking: Lackey allowed just one run over the first six innings but then allowed one run in the seventh and another in the eighth. He surrendered 10 hits overall in his 7 1/3 innings, registering his ninth quality start in 10 outings since the All-Star break.
"I felt great," Lackey said. "I wouldn't take much back, honestly. I felt like I threw the ball pretty good. We have to give Cole a lot of credit. He threw well."
Cards' missed opportunity: The Cardinals had a chance to get some momentum in the first after back-to-back two-out walks, but Yadier Molina hit a soft lineout to center field. The catcher then showed some frustration by slamming his bat down along the first-base line.
"I was trying to stay out of the middle of the plate, make them hit pitches we were throwing," said Cole, who has had fewer than a total of two walks in 14 of his 27 starts. "We weren't missing that bad, there were a lot of close pitches. We got rolling eventually."
"I don't know … You guys like to put a bunch of hype on the division and that kind of stuff. If we just focus on playing good ballgames, try to win every day, the results will be what they will be. [The Cardinals] are having a great season, the Cubs are having a great season, but there's a lot of baseball left, so we'll see." -- Cole, on the importance of the Pirates taking two out of three in St. Louis.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates:Jeff Locke, after a good night's sleep, will pitch Monday's opener of a three-game series in Cincinnati in a 1:10 p.m. ET Labor Day affair at Great American Ball Park. Locke flew ahead of the team for the assignment. First pitch in Cincinnati will be about 14 hours after last pitch in St. Louis.
Cardinals:Lance Lynn will make his return after missing a start due to an ankle sprain as the Cardinals open a three-game series against the Cubs at 1:15 p.m. CT at Busch Stadium. Lynn will be pitching on nine days' rest.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Nate Latsch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.