ST. LOUIS -- With an inspired start by Carlos Martinez and a flood of production against the Pirates' bullpen, the Cardinals asserted their place in the National League Wild Card race with a 7-0 victory at Busch Stadium on Friday night.
With two games remaining in the regular season, the win kept pressure on the Giants, who held their one-game lead over the Cards for the second Wild Card spot after beating the Dodgers later in the evening. The Mets lead the Giants by one for the top Wild Card spot.
Martinez pitched as if he wanted to do so again in 2016 -- which he will if the Cardinals can nab one of the two Wild Card spots. He scattered five hits over seven splendid innings to notch his 16th victory, and he held the Pirates hitless in nine chances with a runner in scoring position. Martinez struck out nine.
"He's been on a roll. He's been arguably their best pitcher the second half of the season," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Martinez. "We didn't get hits when we needed them. … He's a very talented guy, very athletic on the mound. He was better than us tonight."
Pirates starter Tyler Glasnow matched up well over his five-inning start. He was stung by a Jedd Gyorko solo homer, though that was the lone hit Glasnow allowed in the final appearance of his rookie season. Pittsburgh's bullpen, however, couldn't stand so tall. With their 81st loss of the season, the Pirates guaranteed themselves a losing season for the first time since their streak reached 20 straight years in 2012; the Bucs tied the Cubs on Thursday, so the best they can do at this point is finish 80-81.
The night's feel-good moment then came an inning later when Matt Holliday, with tears in his eyes and his thumb still recovering from surgery, delivered a pinch-hit homer in what is expected to be one of his final at-bats with the Cardinals.
"Yeah, there's something magical about that," teammate Adam Wainwright said of Holliday's emotional blast. "You can't make that stuff up. We were happy for Matt. It was great for him, and great for us, too. We needed that."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Storybook ending: If Holliday's at-bat on Friday ends up being his final in a Cardinals uniform, he couldn't have scripted a better ending. Activated off the disabled list simply so he could make one more appearance in front of the home fans before parting ways with the organization, Holliday drew a standing ovation when he stepped in to pinch-hit in the seventh and then received a curtain call after connecting for an opposite-field home run. Fellow veterans Molina and Wainwright came out of the dugout to embrace Holliday after he rounded the bases. More >
"These guys understand what an important role he plays in this organization and what a great job he's done for each of them individually," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Holliday. "That's how it should be. Then the fans took over from there and all the way through. I know it meant a great deal to him and probably more than what words can describe."
Swing of relief: Convinced that Moss, even amid a 7-for-95 skid, could still change the game with one swing, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny inserted Moss back into the lineup. Moss found that impact swing, too. His two-run homer capped a four-run sixth for the Cardinals. It was Moss' 28th homer of the season -- and third-hardest, with an exit velocity of 111.8 mph as projected by Statcast™ -- but only the third Moss has hit since Aug. 25.
"It's one of those things where you want to find your swing and do all the right things, but at the end of the day, all that matters is the result, and I wasn't getting them," Moss said. "It just weighs on you, and you really start living and dying by every at-bat. It just felt good tonight to have some good at-bats." More >
Glasnow, that's more like it: Glasnow, the Pirates' top prospect, will head into the offseason on a positive note after a mostly disappointing Major League debut. The big right-hander on Friday looked more like the unhittable prospect who soared through the Minors. Glasnow struck out four batters, but those came with four walks and a hit batter, as he threw 79 pitches (including 42 strikes) in his final appearance of the year.
"It's good to end on a better note and take it into the offseason," Glasnow said. "It's only one outing, but looking back, the bad habits I got into before, slowly working out of them at the end of the season. Each outing was a little better."
Glasnow will report to Spring Training next year with a chance to earn a spot in the Pirates' rotation. He has called this a frustrating season, saying his stuff has been worse than in recent years. After dipping down to 92 mph in his last outing, Glasnow's fastball sat in the mid-90s and touched 97 on Friday night, and he spun a few sharp curveballs to strike out Moss, Randal Grichuk and Martinez.
"We liked it. He liked it. Very pleased with the effort," Hurdle said. "Pitched through some traffic. I thought he did a really competitive job out there. It was good to see."
"I'm confident that it won't be, because I'm confident in my team. We're doing our best, and I think we can really make it to the postseason and hopefully play deep into October." -- Martinez, when asked if Friday's start would be the final one of his season
"I have no idea how special it was for him. It was pretty special for me. … It's another one of those stories you can't make up beforehand."-- Hurdle, on Holliday's pinch-hit homer. Hurdle managed Holliday with the Rockies from 2004-08.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Holliday became the sixth Cardinals player to reach the 20-homer mark this season. That ties a National League record held by the 1965 and 2003 Braves. The homer was also the team's 17th pinch-hit blast this season, extending their own Major League record. Holliday entered the at-bat with zero pinch-hit RBIs in his 13-year career.
• Pirates rookie Alen Hanson recorded his first Major League stolen bases, twice swiping second off Martinez and Molina. He joined Starling Marte (six times), Josh Harrison (three times) and Adam Frazier (once) as the fourth Pirates player with multiple stolen bases in one game this season.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Right-hander Chad Kuhl (5-4, 4.25 ERA) will make the final start of his rookie season on Saturday afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET) against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. After two solid starts in a row, Kuhl struggled through three innings against the Cubs on Monday, allowing five runs on eight hits.
Cardinals: The Cards have settled on Michael Wacha to fill their rotation hole on Saturday and will have an all-hands-on-deck approach behind him. Wacha's start in the 12:05 p.m. CT game against the Pirates will be his first since Aug. 8. He threw 60 pitches in relief on Monday.