Pirates rout Cardinals to take over 1st place
By Karen Price
Published: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 10:24 p.m.
In the 19 seasons since the National League was divided into three divisions, the team on top of the Central Division on Sept. 1 has won the division 17 times.
After going into Saturday's game tied with the Cardinals for the division lead, the Pirates are in sole possession of the top spot on Sept. 1 following a 7-1 win.
In front of the largest crowd of the season and second-largest in the 13-year history of PNC Park (39,514), the Pirates scored two runs in the second inning and piled on five in the third to take an early and decisive lead.
“We're heading the right direction. We have a long way to go,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “One thing I share with every new player coming in is fear nothing, respect everything. That's the way we'll continue to do it.”
From the fourth inning on, the Cardinals got three hits, all singles.
The Pirates have outscored the Cardinals, 12-1, in the first two games of the three-game series. They've also managed to do it without much help from Andrew McCutchen. The hottest player in baseball the past month has gone 0 for 9 during the last two games and was the only starter without a hit Saturday.
Earlier in the day, the Pirates traded for Justin Morneau. The longtime Twins first baseman was in the dugout, in uniform, midway through the game.
Russell Martin hit a three-run homer, his second homer in as many nights. Marlon Byrd, acquired from the Mets on Tuesday, added a single and a double and has hit in all four games since joining the Pirates. Jose Tabata stayed hot by going 2 for 5 with an RBI, and Neil Walker improved to 5 for 8 this series. Even A.J. Burnett helped his own cause by driving in a run in the second for his fourth hit and second RBI of the season.
“It definitely is more comfortable when you get to have a little lead and score some runs early and take some pressure away from our pitcher and he's able to do his job and not be too stressed out there,” Martin said. “We'll take these kinds of wins. We know they're not going to come often, but when they come, we definitely enjoy them.”
Burnett (7-9) held the division rivals to one run on four hits over seven innings and bumped his record to 3-0 in five starts against the Cardinals this season. The Cards finished with just six hits and none for extra bases.
“I just tried to keep the ball down,” Burnett said. “It's such a mental grind going up against these guys and the good lineup they have, so you have to be on top of it.”
The Cardinals scored in the third inning to cut the Pirates' lead to 2-1, ending a scoreless streak that stretched to the eighth inning Tuesday against Cincinnati. But Burnett struck out Matt Holliday with runners on the corners to end the inning, and the answer from the Pirates was swift.
Pedro Alvarez led off the bottom of the third with a double and scored on Byrd's single. Then Garrett Jones walked to put two on for Martin, whose homer made it 6-1. Lance Lynn (13-9) got the next two outs. But Tabata kept the inning going with a two-out single, then scored on Walker's triple.
In the fifth, Seth Maness relieved Lynn, who was 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA in four starts against the Pirates this season coming into the game.
The Pirates lead the Cardinals in the season series, 10-5, including a 7-2 edge at PNC Park. A win Sunday would give the Pirates their first series sweep over their division rivals since Sept. 12-14, 2008, at PNC Park.
“There's been different times this season where different guys have been able to show up and get some things done to help the entire team,” Hurdle said. “Byrd has shown up big. We're adding professional hitters so no one man's got to do it, and we'll put another one in the lineup (Sunday) in Justin Morneau.”
Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.
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