PITTSBURGH -- An opportunity to tighten things atop the National League Central all but dissolved for the Cardinals before the first inning even came to an end on Saturday. The Pirates pounced on starter Lance Lynn for eight instant runs that pushed them toward an eventual 11-6 win and snapped the momentum St. Louis had been building amid a four-game winning streak.
The Cardinals took the field knowing that the Brewers had already pulled even with them in the standings by stealing an afternoon victory over the division-leading Cubs. But the Cards were unable to grab the ground available to gain. Instead, they slipped a half-game back of the Brewers and five games behind the Cubs in the National League Central. They remained 1 1/2 games behind the Rockies -- who lost -- for the second NL Wild Card spot.
The Pirates played the spoiler role well after enduring a ninth-inning meltdown in the series opener. They sent 12 batters to the plate in a first inning that Lynn couldn't finish. A two-run single by David Freese and a bases-clearing triple from Jordy Mercer contributed to manager Mike Matheny's decision to pull his starter after 42 pitches.
"He's been so good all season long," Matheny said of Lynn, whose ERA rose from 3.09 to 3.47. "You have to let that one go."
Lynn was charged with a career-high eight runs in two-thirds of an inning, tying the shortest start of his career. It marked the first time since 2004 that the Cardinals had given up eight first-inning runs.
"There were a couple balls up, and then a couple things didn't go my way," Lynn said. "Unfortunately, that happens some nights. Usually, I'm able to get through it. Tonight it just kind of snowballed and I wasn't able to make a pitch to get out of the inning."
The deluge of runs helped mask the two-run homer Pirates starter Gerrit Cole served up to Tommy Pham in the first and the five runs Cole allowed over 5 2/3 innings. In what was his final home start of the season, Cole improved to 4-0 with a 3.32 ERA in seven career starts against the Cardinals at PNC Park.
The Pirates finished the game 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position and had three position players -- Adam Frazier, Gregory Polanco and Mercer -- reach base three times as they finished with double-digit runs scored for the first time since Sept. 4. Mercer tied a career high with four RBIs and was a homer shy of the cycle.
"It was a good day. Good to get the win and get our offense out of a little logjam and score a bunch of runs and give our pitchers a break," Mercer said. "It was good all the way around, a much-needed game for us."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Clear the deck: Lynn's chances of minimizing the damage in the first were eliminated when Dexter Fowler made an awkward sliding attempt to corral Mercer's sinking hit into shallow center. The ball skipped past Fowler, allowing three runs to score and Mercer to reach third. The Pirates went ahead, 6-2, on the triple, which was one of three hits Mercer tallied before being replaced in the sixth inning due to a sore left knee.
"I think if you ask [Lynn], he just wasn't locating. That was his biggest thing," Mercer said. "He was leaving the ball over the middle of the plate, and we were putting good swings on it. When the rally gets going like that, you want to keep the line moving."
Last gasp: Despite the hole they dug early, the Cardinals gave themselves a chance to chip away a sizeable portion of it when they opened the third inning with three consecutive hits. But after the Cards scored one run, Cole retired Fowler, Jedd Gyorko and Yadier Molina with runners at second and third to halt any momentum for St. Louis' offense. The inning ended with the Pirates still ahead by five.
"That's big," Matheny said. "We get one [run]. If we can get two or three, it definitely gives a different vibe to it."
"It's a good jumpstart for us. We don't want to finish with a sour taste in our mouth -- especially offensively, when we've had numerous chances and haven't capitalized. We finally get to break out and enjoy this. Everybody got a taste of it tonight, too, which was really good. It was a good win. We need to keep carrying it over and keep finishing strong." -- Mercer, on the Pirates breaking out of a prolonged slump with an eight-run first inning
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Cardinals tied a Major League record by using six pinch-hitters in an inning when Matheny began emptying his bench in the sixth. The influx of replacements helped the Cards score three runs in the frame.
Sidelined since Aug. 17 with a right elbow impingement, Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright made his return and season debut as a reliever on Saturday. Wainwright entered in the third and covered two innings on 31 pitches. His fastball velocity never reached higher than 89 mph, but Wainwright held the Pirates to one run on three hits. He's expected to be used out of the bullpen for the remainder of the regular season.
"It was all right," Wainwright said of his showing. "It's good to get back out there, and hopefully each time will be better and better."
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: The Redbirds will close the road portion of their regular-season schedule with a 12:35 p.m. CT game at PNC Park on Sunday. John Gant will step in to make the spot start, his first for the Cards all year. Gant's four previous appearances this month came in relief and totaled six innings.
Pirates: The Bucs will wrap up their last home weekend series of the season by hosting the Cardinals at PNC Park at 1:35 p.m. ET on Sunday. Right-hander Jameson Taillon will start for the Pirates, looking to build on a solid outing against the Brewers and end the season on a high note.