Pirates down Cardinals, inch closer in wild-card chase
The Pirates are battered and bruised, but they are not dead yet.
The Pirates on Wednesday afternoon did what good teams do in the heat of a pennant race. They scraped together a few runs against St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright and pulled out a 3-1 victory behind a stellar effort by left-hander Jeff Locke.
One week ago, the Pirates were reeling from a seven-game losing streak. Since then, they have won back-to-back series against the top two teams in the NL Central, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cardinals.
“Losing seven in a row, it was a little chippy in here,” said Ike Davis, who crushed a two-run homer off Wainwright. “But we stayed the course.”
Right fielder Travis Snider left the game early due to a cramp in his left hamstring. Pedro Alvarez is wearing a protective walking boot after spraining his left foot Tuesday and was not available. Andrew McCutchen, who aggravated a rib injury Tuesday, played through the pain and went 1 for 3 with an RBI.
Locke (6-3) worked 7 1⁄3 innings, allowed one run on six hits and two walks, and struck out six. He won his fourth straight decision and has a 2.90 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP in five starts this month.
“He (made) good pitches on the third-base side,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “His fastball, for sure. I remember seeing some late-count strike three freeze calls in there. He was below the zone with his offspeed pitches when he needed to be. He was back and forth, back and forth, all day long.”
Wainwright (15-9) was trying to become the first 16-game winner in the majors. However, he has struggled throughout his career at PNC Park, where he is 5-3 with a 5.09 ERA in 13 outings.
With one out in the second inning, Wainwright plunked Russell Martin with an 0-1 curveball. Davis whacked the next pitch over the wall in right-center field.
Davis is 4 for 16 in his career against Wainwright. Two of those hits are homers.
“Every at-bat is a battle with him,” Davis said. “He's really good. You have to hit his mistakes.”
Wainwright admitted he threw a mistake pitch to Davis.
“I wanted it higher,” Wainwright said. “It's a cutter on the corner and in, but it's down and in — that's every lefty's honey hole, especially a big strong fellow like (Davis). If I'm throwing that pitch, it needs to be up on the hands.”
The 433-foot blast might have wound up in the Allegheny River if the ball had not caromed off a loudspeaker set up on the concourse.
It was practically the same spot where Davis deposited his pinch-hit, go-ahead three-run homer in the eighth inning Tuesday night.
“It feels different than when you hit a home run and your team's already eliminated,” Davis said. “If you're still in (the race), it feels sweeter.”
Matt Holliday hit a solo shot to left field that trimmed the Cardinals' deficit to 2-1 in the third.
In the bottom of the inning, the Pirates loaded the bases with none out. Locke and Josh Harrison each singled to left field. Snider singled on a perfectly placed bunt that caught the Cardinals by surprise.
Snider hurt his hamstring on the play and was replaced by pinch-runner Jose Tabata.
McCutchen's sacrifice fly scored Locke and moved Harrison to third base.
Harrison made a game-changing play at third in the fifth inning. With Daniel Descalso at third and two outs, Randal Grichuk grounded a hot smash down the line. Harrison's throw beat Grichuk by a step to end the inning.
“I saw him swing through a couple of changeups out in front, so I was anticipating the ball being hit to me,” Harrison said. “When it was hit, I knew it was in range for me to dive and get it. I knew if I got my glove on it, I'd be able to make a good throw.”
It was one of 14 outs Locke got from ground balls.
“If you keep the ball down in the zone and it's round ball, round bat and they hit the ball on the ground,” Locke said. “You get in a rhythm out there.”