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Cardinals rout Pirates, pull within half-game of division lead

| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 12:18 a.m.
Pirates relief pitcher Bryan Morris walks off the field after being removed from the game following a three-run home run by the Cardinals' Yadier Molina during the seventh inning Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
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Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay is caught stealing second base by Pirates second baseman Neil Walker during the fifth inning Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
The Cardinals' Matt Carpenter (right) scores past Pirates catcher Russell Martin on a double by Jon Jay during the third inning Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett watches as an RBI double by the Cardinals' Matt Holliday lands in the outfield during the third inning Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
The Cardinals' Matt Carpenter (left) celebrates after hitting a triple while third-base coach Jose Oquend points during the third inning against the Pirates on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
The Cardinals' Matt Carpenter (bottom) is safe at third for a triple as Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez (24) handles the throw during the third inning Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
Cardinals shortstop Daniel Descalso can't reach a ball hit for a single by the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen during the first inning Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
Cardinals third baseman David Freese misplays a grounder hit by the Pirates' Marlon Byrd during the first inning Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett throws during the first inning against the Cardinals on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
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The Cardinals' Daniel Descalso runs into the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen after turning a double play in the second inning Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
REUTERS
Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd catches a ball hit by the Cardinals' Daniel Descalso during the seventh inning on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
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Pirates second baseman Neil Walker throws out a runner at first base against the Cardinals in the fourth inning on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
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Pirates reliever Kris Johnson pitches against the Cardinals in the fourth inning on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
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The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez hits an RBI single against the Cardinals in the fifth inning on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
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Pirates reliever Jared Hughes pitches against the Cardinals in the sixth inning on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
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The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez throws out a runner at first base against the Cardinals in the sixth inning on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
REUTERS
Pirates catcher John Buck watches the game from the dugout during the fifth inning against the Cardinals on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
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Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett delivers a pitch to the Cardinals during the first inning on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen chases after a ball hit by the Cardinals' Carlos Beltran after missing the line drive during the first inning Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Louis. Two runs scored, and McCutchen was charged with a fielding error on the play.

ST. LOUIS — It's getting a bit crowded at the top of the NL Central.

The Pirates were pushed around Friday in a 12-8 loss to the Cardinals. Right-hander A.J. Burnett gave up five runs in the first three innings, and his mates squandered scoring chances when the outcome was still in doubt.

After dropping three of their past five games, the Pirates lead the second-place Cardinals by only one-half game. The teams clash again Saturday and wrap up their season series Sunday.

The Reds, powered by Joey Votto's two-run homer, edged the Dodgers, 3-2, Friday. The Reds — who face the Pirates six times over the final 10 days of the season — have crept to within two games of the division lead.

“We all understand what's at stake and where we are in the season,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It was a hard night.”

The Cardinals bested the Pirates in every facet. They clubbed clutch hits — nine of their 16 hits went for extra bases — played superb defense and got a solid effort from their starting pitcher.

The game became a laugher in the seventh inning when the Cardinals reeled off nine straight hits and racked up seven runs before making their first out.

In the midst of that mess, reliever Bryan Morris sent Yadier Molina sprawling with a high-and-tight slider. Umpire Tony Randazzo warned Morris, who got in the ump's face until manager Clint Hurdle intervened. Molina got up, dusted himself off and smacked a three-run homer.

An inning later, Cardinals reliever John Axford nailed Tony Sanchez on the shoulder and was ejected.

The Pirates loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning. But righty Joe Kelly (8-3) escaped by getting Pedro Alvarez to ground out.

“We were on base against him all night, but we weren't able to get that one big hit,” Hurdle said. “We got him to bend but couldn't break him.”

Burnett had trouble finding the strike zone against the Cardinals' first two batters. Matt Carpenter walked on five pitches and went to third base on Jon Jay's single.

Carlos Beltran dropped a one-out single into center field. Andrew McCutchen opted to pull up and play the ball on the bounce — but it got by him and rolled to the warning track. Carpenter jogged home. Jay, who stopped at third base, also scored.

“I was waiting for it, but it kind of skipped instead of hopped,” McCutchen said. “That ball would've hopped back on the Pittsburgh grass (at PNC Park).”

The Pirates got two more singles off Kelly in the second but wasted another opportunity. Trying to sacrifice, Burnett instead bunted into a force out at second base. Neil Walker whiffed with two on and two out.

Carpenter led off the bottom of the third with a grounder into the right field corner. Marlon Byrd set up to play the carom, but the ball instead hugged the wall. Carpenter wound up with a triple.

Jay, Matt Holliday and Beltran hit consecutive RBI doubles to make it 5-0.

Molina followed with a hard hopper that ticked off Burnett's right hand.

“Got me on the pinky knuckle, but it seems all right now,” Burnett said after the game.

Burnett stayed in the game and didn't allow any more damage but was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning. In three innings, Burnett yielded five runs on six hits, walked one and struck out four.

“I feel like I could've stayed out there longer and kept us in it, but it's not my choice,” Burnett said.

Burnett (7-10) has notched double-digit victories in each of the past eight seasons. To keep that streak alive, he'll have to win three of his final four starts.

The Pirates had 12 baserunners in six innings against Kelly but produced only one run. In the fifth, Alvarez's two-out single scored McCutchen.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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