At this point, the St. Louis Cardinals would be stunned by anything but a one-run game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“That’s been our thing the whole year. We just try and find a way to scratch out wins,” second baseman Kolten Wong said Tuesday night after the Cardinals rallied for a 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh, their fourth one-run win over the Pirates in four games at Busch Stadium and their seventh in 11 games overall against their National League Central rival.
“We’re facing some good pitching on that side and they’re going to face our best pitching on this side. It’s exciting,” Wong said before offering up a few words of caution. “We know we still have 50 games left. We know anything can happen in those 50 games.”
The Cardinals (72-40) extended their lead over the second-place Pirates (65-45) to six games. Third-place Chicago (63-48) is 8 1/2 behind the Cardinals and 2 1/2 in back of Pittsburgh.
Right fielder Jason Heyward was 2-for-4 with two RBIs for St. Louis, one coming in a three-run fifth that turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. Carlos Martinez held it in the sixth, seventh and eighth before Trevor Rosenthal struck out the side in the ninth for his 34th save.
“That’s the way I would rather it be,” Heyward said of the white-knuckle nature of the game. “You don’t want to get bored out there. Especially games like this, against good teams, you want to be active, and be a part of the game. I’m just glad I could come through a couple times.”
Heyward also might have saved a home run in the third. He retreated to the wall and leaped, keeping Gregory Polanco’s drive in the park. It went for a triple, and Polanco scored two outs later on Aramis Ramirez’s single past third baseman Matt Carpenter.
“I’ll say (it was) off the glove more so than in the glove,” Heyward said. “It’s a tough ball as far as judging whether to get up on the fence or stay down. I’m happy enough I was able to keep it in and we were almost able to get out of there. They got the big knock to get him home.
“I think I can catch everything. That’s probably why I’m too hard on myself at times. I didn’t feel it was too far over my head. When I got in, Yadi (Molina) said he thought it should have been way over the fence. It just goes to show you never know what’s going to happen, so you just try to be there and play it out until you know what’s going to happen.”
Martinez improved to 12-4 after surrendering three runs on seven hits in the first five innings. Martinez permitted nine hits, walked none and struck out eight.
The fifth inning was key for the 23-year-old right-hander. After allowing singles to Polanco and Starling Marte to start the inning, Martinez got Andrew McCutchen on a 6-3 double play and retired Ramirez on a fly to left.
“That was really important,” Martinez said. “It was a tough situation against a tough hitter.”
McCutchen, the 2013 Most Valuable Player in the NL, is 3-for-20 (.150) with no RBIs against the Cardinals this season at Busch Stadium. All of his hits have been singles.
Matheny said he ages a little every time McCutchen comes up with runners in scoring position.
“That’s not easy at all,” Matheny said. “(Martinez) did a great job. That just shows an ability to make a tough pitch in a tough situation. ... That was a big situation. That kept damage from happening. These guys drive in runs. They’re a good offensive club.”