ST. LOUIS -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle nearly kept outfielder Gregory Polanco out of Monday's lineup over concerns about how a sore left hamstring would affect his mobility. As it turned out, they would only need him to trot.
Polanco not only played, but he delivered the two biggest swings, lifting the Pirates to a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals with his first career multihomer game. The win, which came in front of an Independence Day crowd of 41,850 at Busch Stadium, extended Pittsburgh's winning streak to five games and halted St. Louis' at three.
"Just glad that I was able to come back out today," said Polanco, who's been playing through pain for a week and a half. "Hitting or swinging, I don't feel it at all. It doesn't bother me in any way, and I'm grateful for that."
Polanco wiped away the Cardinals' 1-0 lead by following John Jaso's leadoff double with a two-run blast in the sixth. Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez served up that homer, as well as an RBI single to Jaso an inning later that closed his seven-inning start. Though Martinez has allowed four earned runs in his last four starts (27 innings), the Cardinals have lost all four. Polanco added a solo shot in the eighth.
"It's something that happens," Martinez said, speaking through a translator. "I trust in my team. … I know we're going to get back in the rhythm. I feel really good mentally and physically, and I feel like I've reached a point in my career where I'm mentally mature enough to be able to pitch at this level."
Pirates starter Jonathon Niese weaved his way through 5 2/3 innings, allowing one run on seven hits. He then turned the game over to the bullpen, which extended its scoreless-innings streak to 34 1/3 before Neftali Feliz allowed an inherited runner to score on Matt Carpenter's two-out double in the ninth.
"We've got a lot of talent. We've got a lot of swagger going," Niese said. "It feels good to win. Just as you can say losing's contagious, so is winning. It's a lot of fun right now. Hopefully we can keep it going."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Game-time decision? Mid-morning Monday, the Pirates didn't have a lineup written out. Hurdle was still awaiting word to see if Polanco could play right field with his sore left leg until 11:45 a.m. CT, an hour and a half before the scheduled first pitch. The soreness had limited Polanco to six innings of defense since June 24, but it didn't keep him out of the lineup Monday afternoon. Good thing for the Pirates, too, because he went on to record his first career multihomer game, lining one homer to right and a solo shot to left.
"He felt he could navigate out there. He could make plays," Hurdle said. "He's continuing to work. He's continuing to be a force in the lineup. … Real strong performance from him."
Record pace: Carpenter, the National League leader in OPS (1.008) and on-base percentage (.427), gave the Cardinals a brief lead with his fifth-inning RBI single and closed the deficit to two with an RBI double in the ninth. The pair of run-scoring hits gave Carpenter 53 RBIs through the team's first 82 games. Only one leadoff hitter in baseball history has driven in 100 runs in a season, and that was Darin Erstad, who tallied exactly that many in 2000 with the Angels. At his current pace, Carpenter would break that record. He finished Monday's game with three hits.
Immaculate Inning: After flame-throwing right-hander Arquimedes Caminero recorded four outs in relief, Hurdle called on right-hander Juan Nicasio, making his fourth appearance since being bumped to the bullpen. Facing Stephen Piscotty, Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina, Nicasio struck out the side on nine pitches. The "immaculate inning" was the Pirates' first since Sept. 5, 2009, and the first in the Majors this season. More >
"Very joyful and grateful to be a part of that history," Nicasio said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "I just found out and it put a big smile on my face."
Damage control: Martinez masterfully wiggled out of a fifth-inning mess that nearly gave the Pirates the first runs of the game. He allowed three straight singles to open the frame but then benefited from where he was in the Pirates' order. Martinez struck out eight-hole hitter Erik Kratz for the first out before inducing an inning-ending double play off the bat of Niese. The double play was the 20th of the season for Martinez, who leads all NL pitchers in that category.
"You're looking in the fifth where he gets the bases loaded, and he's always got that extra gear to get the strikeout and make something happen with the double play," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I think the rest of the league sees what we see -- that this guy is a top tier pitcher. He's taken that step in his career to where he's figuring out how to pitch on a consistent basis, how to find his stuff to get quick outs. Then he's got obviously all the horsepower you could ever ask for."
"It feels great being over .500. … We don't worry about the past. What happened in June happened in June. Now we're moving forward." -- Polanco
"I think all year we have been consistently good as an offense. It's just one of those days. We had a bunch of good at-bats. We hit the ball hard. We just kind of hit the ball at guys and didn't capitalize on chances. -- Cardinals first baseman Jedd Gyorko
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Pirates' bullpen's scoreless streak, ended after 34 1/3 innings, was the longest in franchise history since at least 1900. The previous Pittsburgh record was 28 2/3 innings, set in 1915 and '18, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Pittsburgh is over .500 for the first time since the morning of June 16, having won eight of its last 10 games following a stretch in which the Bucs dropped eight of nine.
Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham was a late scratch from the Cardinals' lineup on Monday due to right shoulder stiffness. Pham said he sustained the injury on a diving attempt over the weekend and felt he would compromise his club's chances of winning if he played. The Cardinals are optimistic that Pham will return later in this series. More >
Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon was placed on the disabled list after Monday's game due to right shoulder fatigue. Taillon had been scheduled to start for the Pirates on Tuesday night. More >
RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY
Monday marked the third straight day that the Cardinals had the start of their game delayed by rain. This time, a delay of one hour and 26 minutes preceded first pitch. Over the three-day holiday weekend, the Cardinals endured five hours and 27 minutes of delays due to weather.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Left-hander Steven Brault is expected to make his Major League debut on Tuesday as the Pirates face the Cardinals at Busch Stadium (first pitch is 8:09 p.m. ET). Brault, 24, will start in place of the injured Taillon, a rookie-for-rookie swap in the rotation. Brault is 2-3 with a 2.57 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Indianapolis.
Cardinals: Right-hander Mike Leake will start for the Cardinals when they face the Pirates in a 7:09 p.m. CT game on Tuesday. Leake has won eight of his last nine decisions against the Pirates, including a June 12 victory over the Bucs in Pittsburgh. He allowed three runs (two earned) in seven innings that day.