ST. LOUIS -- David Freese and Eric Fryer made the Cardinals wish they had never let them go Tuesday night as they led the Pirates to a 5-2 victory at Busch Stadium in left-hander Steven Brault's Major League debut.
"The game's funny that way, how things work out," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
It was the Pirates' sixth straight win overall and their seventh in 11 games against the Cardinals as they moved within a half-game of second place St. Louis in the National League Central.
"Every loss stings," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It doesn't matter who does it to us, they all hurt."
Fryer's RBI single in the fifth inning tied the game at 2-2, and Freese followed it up in the sixth with a go-ahead RBI single to score Andrew McCutchen. Three batters later, Fryer, who was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals on Sunday, made it 5-2 with a two-run bloop double down the right-field line. All five runs were charged to Cardinals starter Mike Leake, who was handed his third straight loss.
"They just found a couple critical hits and it kind of went their way from there," Leake said. "[I made] mistakes. The Freese [fifth-inning double] was missing location. Harrison, that was a pretty good pitch. Fryer did a good job of putting the ball in play. They weren't terribly located balls, but not the best."
Brault went four innings and gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits. His only misstep came when Matt Holliday singled home Aledmys Diaz to break an 0-for-12 slump in the third. Stephen Piscotty scored in the second inning after reaching third on a fly ball to Gregory Polanco that should have been caught.
"I was less nervous at first than I thought. When I got into trouble, then it hit me a little bit, but overall I reacted well," Brault said. "I tried to keep doing what I've been doing. With all the guys around me, it's easy to feel comfortable on the mound and let my defense do the work. I tried to be myself and had a lot of fun."
The Cardinals fell to 6-4 this season when facing a rookie starting pitcher and have lost nine consecutive games against teams with a winning record.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Hold your applause: Freese received yet another standing ovation before his first at-bat, which ended with him staring at a called third strike. He gave his former hometown crowd a reason to stay seated before each of his next two trips to the plate. In the fifth, he doubled and scored. In the sixth, he singled home McCutchen and scored on Fryer's double to right.
"I can't express how humbling it really is," Freese said. "Coming back the second time, it's almost embarrassing. But it's cool. I really appreciate it. It's awesome. … Coming back here was one of the first things I thought about, and the fans are the reason why."
Pena's pain: Cardinals backup catcher Brayan Pena uncorked a passed ball in the sixth inning that allowed McCutchen to advance to second base, and he yielded a stolen base to Josh Harrison in the fifth inning. Both runners came around to score. Starling Marte stole another base in the eighth inning but was stranded by Trevor Rosenthal.
"Every time something like that happens, and then they score a run, you feel guilty about it," Pena said. "It was a mistake that I made. They ended up scoring that run, and it was a mistake."
What a relief: The Pirates' bullpen had to pick up five innings after Brault's exit. Juan Nicasio, fresh off a multi-inning appearance Monday afternoon, followed the rookie with two scoreless innings. Since being bumped from the rotation, Nicasio has allowed one run in 8 1/3 innings over five relief appearances. Arquimedes Caminero and Tony Watson each pitched a scoreless inning, setting up NL All-Star Mark Melancon, who struck out two in the ninth for his 25th save.
"Those guys out there are on a roll," Hurdle said. "Like a lot of things, when they get in good rhythm and form and the opportunities present themselves, you keep giving them the ball. Each one of them took the ball and pitched very, very well."
Sprung a Leake: Tuesday night was 23rd time in 27 career starts against the Pirates that Leake has gone at least six innings and just the second time he has taken the loss in his last 10 decisions against Pittsburgh. He has given up three runs or more in each of his last four starts and hasn't received more than four runs of support.
"We've got to make plays sometimes to help him," Matheny said. "We're just going to have to play better baseball. Our defense is an easy target right now, so we're just going to have to keep taking shots and that's what we're going to have to do until we fix it."
"Best surprise I've ever gotten." -- Brault, on learning he'd be making his Major League debut
Cardinals third baseman Jhonny Peralta left the game in the top of the fourth inning with left thumb discomfort. The Cardinals announced that it wasn't related to the thumb injury that required surgery after Spring Training and caused him to miss the first two months of the season. More >
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
McCutchen singled with two outs in the first inning and took a large lead at first base. Leake made a pickoff move and Jedd Gyorko swiped McCutchen on the right arm as he dove back into the bag. He was ruled safe, but the Cardinals challenged and the call was overturned after a one-minute, 39-second review.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates:Jeff Locke (8-5, 5.13 ERA) will try to keep the Pirates' winning streak going as he starts against the Cardinals at 8:15 p.m. ET on Wednesday. The left-hander allowed three runs over five innings in a 7-3 win against the A's on Friday night. He is 2-4 with a 4.04 ERA in nine career starts against St. Louis, but he's 3-4 with a 7.16 ERA in nine starts on the road this season.
Cardinals:Jaime Garcia (6-6, 3.84 ERA) takes the mound for the Cardinals in the third game three of a four-game set with the Pirates. The left-hander is 2-1 in four starts against Pittsburgh with a 0.57 ERA. First pitch at Busch Stadium is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. CT.