ST. LOUIS -- The sting of a slow start felt a little less severe on Wednesday, as the Cardinals wrapped up a series sweep of the Pirates with a boost from Dexter Fowler's bat and another strong starting pitching performance. All three games in this series ended with a 2-1 score.
Fowler provided all the necessary offense with his first multi-homer game since 2013. His solo shots off Pirates' starter Gerrit Cole in the third and fifth innings were his first home runs with the club. The second was recognized with a curtain call, Fowler's first at Busch Stadium.
"The way he swung the bat for us was the difference in the game," Matt Carpenter said of Fowler. "It was just a much better series for us. Hopefully this will be the momentum that we need heading into the rest of the season."
Cole faced little other trouble over his six-inning start, but he was outdueled by Michael Wacha. A fourth-inning homer by Josh Bell was all that marred Wacha's 6 2/3-inning start. In the series, Cardinals starters limited the Pirates to two runs over 20 innings. The Pirates, in turn, finished 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position.
"Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way. We lost by one run three days in a row," Cole said. "A hit here or there could drastically change the outcome of this series. I think if we just stick with ourselves, stick with our process, we'll continue to put ourselves in a good position to win ballgames."
For the Pirates, the loss also extended an unusual trend. Every series they've played in this season has ended in a sweep. Dating back to last season, the Cardinals have won seven straight against Pittsburgh.
"It's definitely different. I'm sure it's not going to last," Bell said. "I feel like it's going to start clicking on both sides of the ball."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Great escape: A breakdown by the Cardinals' infield defense complicated things for reliever Kevin Siegrist in the eighth, but he wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam with the help of an exceptional diving stop from first baseman Carpenter. Carpenter, who committed one of the team's two errors in the inning, snared a sharp line drive down the line by Gregory Polanco and beat him in a foot race to the base.
"That's big for Kevin right there that he doesn't let that inning turn into something and continues to trust his defense," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That was a great team effort to pick each other up. We're all going to make mistakes; every single one of us. We have to be able to have someone pick us up when that happens."
According to Statcast™, Polanco's ball had an exit velocity of 104.2 mph and a hit probability of 58 percent.
"Guy makes a Major League play," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It was a good fight in the box there. [Polanco] catches that ball an eighth of an inch lower, the ball's in the air and it's not going to be caught."
Helping hand: Rather than give Wacha a chance to close the seventh, Matheny summoned his most trusted reliever, Matt Bowman, with two on and two out. Bowman promptly struck out Jordy Mercer on three pitches to extend his string of scoreless appearances to 18 games. Bowman has now stranded seven of nine inherited runners this year.
"I keep putting him in different spots, whether it's [in] a clean eighth or come in and get one guy," Matheny said. "He got the guy we needed in a big situation. He's a big part of our 'pen."
You go, we go: Fowler entered the day slashing .143/.226/.196, but also feeling positioned to break out of the slump after making some mechanical changes to his swing. On consecutive pitches he saw from Cole, Fowler hit balls 401 and 407 feet, respectively. He had one home run in 23 at-bats against Cole previously. More >
"I've been in ruts before. You just have to take it for what it's worth," Fowler said. "If you're not comfortable and not getting the results, eventually they will come. And today was the day."
"It's bizarre. Such is this game, and such is life." --John Jaso, on the Pirates' sweep-or-be-swept streak
"I don't think guys were freaking out at all. We understand it's a long season, and we understand that we weren't playing our best baseball right out of the gate. We played three tight games and were able to win all three of them. We just have to carry that momentum to the road now and keep playing well." -- Wacha, on the Cardinals' turnaround after being swept by the Yankees
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Pirates lost three straight games with a 2-1 score for the first time since at least 1913. They were held to one run or less in three straight games against the same opponent for the first time since July 30-Aug. 1, 2012, when the Cardinals beat the Bucs 1-0, 11-1 and 9-1 at Busch Stadium.
According to STATS LLC, the Pirates have never before been swept in a three-game series in which they allowed six runs or fewer.
BACK TO HIS OLD WAYS
With Seung Hwan Oh having thrown 46 pitches over the previous two days, the Cardinals called in Trevor Rosenthal to cover the ninth on Wednesday. He worked around a single by striking out the final two batters to collect his 111th career save. It was Rosenthal's first save, however, since June 21, 2016.
"Like before, it's just pitching one inning," said Rosenthal, who threw a season-high 23 pitches. "Go out there, focus on making one pitch at a time. It's fun when the game's over, but while it's going on, [I] enjoy competing. Having success, it's fun to do that."
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: After an off-day at home Thursday, the Pirates will host the Yankees at PNC Park for the first time since 2008. Top prospect Tyler Glasnow is set to start the opener at 7:05 p.m. ET Friday after showing signs of improvement in the final four innings of his outing Saturday at Wrigley Field.
Cardinals: The Cardinals will open a four-game series in Milwaukee on Thursday, with first pitch scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CT. Carlos Martinez, who walked eight and struck out 11 his last time out, will look for a more settled start against the Brewers' Zach Davies.