By Sarah K. Spencer and George Von Benko
PITTSBURGH -- Matt Holliday homered among three hits to back seven strong innings from Mike Leake as the Cardinals took an 8-3 win in a series sweep of the Pirates at PNC Park on Sunday.
"I liked the starting pitching," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Not that we take the offense for granted, but I think that's kind of what our guys demanding of themselves as an offense and to be able to put up some big innings, but we need our starting pitching to come in and do what they've done. Mike was very good today."
The Cardinals used a four-run sixth inning to pull away, as Yadier Molina, who finished 3-for-4, hit an RBI single to left fielder Starling Marte, whose throwing error allowed two Cardinals to score and sent Molina to third base. Brandon Moss added another RBI single and Randal Grichuk capped the inning with a solo homer to left field.
Pittsburgh pulled starter Jonathon Niese, who was handed his first loss since May 9, after 5 1/3 innings, 11 hits and eight earned runs. Leake held the Pirates to six hits and three runs.
"I thought I made some pitches and didn't make some good pitches," Niese said. "A couple innings there snowballed on me."
St. Louis (35-32) outscored Pittsburgh, 22-7, in the series and handed the Pirates their season-high fifth loss in a row, moving them to one game above .500 at 32-31.
"We take that blind approach of one at a time," Matheny said. "But I can't deny it's good to win here, and I didn't know until somebody said that's the first time that we have swept them here since 2009, I guess. It's a hard team to beat here and they've played us extremely well over the last five seasons here. I'm real happy."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Hot Holliday: Holliday, who had three hits and a three-run homer on Saturday night, continued his hot hitting with a first-inning homer off Niese into the right-field bleachers for his 11th of the season. Holliday also contributed to a three-run third inning with an RBI single. Stephen Piscotty had an RBI double and Jhonny Peralta picked up an RBI on a groundout in the same frame. More >
Three runs are better than none:David Freese and Marte both hit RBI singles in the fourth inning, and Jordy Mercer scored Freese in the seventh.
Leake on streak vs. Bucs: Leake gave the Cards a strong outing with seven innings and three runs on six hits. Leake upped his record to 5-4 and has won eight of his last nine decisions against the Pirates dating back to Sept 11, 2012 (17 starts).
"I think today this guy unfortunately got a pretty good pedigree against us. He's seen us a lot... He curves the ball really well, he stays out of the middle of the plate, the guy yesterday shredded it. That's as good of stuff as you'll see out here." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on Leake and Carlos Martinez shutting down hitters in back-to-back games
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
In the third inning, the Cardinals challenged after Piscotty was called out at home on the grounds that catcher Erik Kratz had violated the home-plate collision rule. However, the call was upheld and Piscotty was out at home.
St. Louis challenged a safe call at first base after Mercer drove home Freese in the seventh. After review, the call was overturned as the replay showed the throw from shortstop Aledmys Diaz had beaten Mercer to the base.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: Following an off-day on Monday, the Cardinals open a two-game series with the Houston Astros on Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. CT. Lefty Jaime Garcia (4-5, 3.89) gets the start. He allowed five runs on 13 hits in 4 2/3 innings Wednesday in a no-decision against the Reds.
Pirates: The Pirates will get their first off-day Monday since May 12. Pittsburgh's starter for Tuesday vs. the Mets is still to be determined since Juan Nicasio, usually in the starting rotation, threw 40 pitches in the 12th inning of a 9-3 loss to the Cardinals on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.