The St. Louis Cardinals looked flat for the first two-thirds of the game, able to do nothing with lefty Pittsburgh Pirates starter Francisco Lirano through six plus innings.
Mercifully, the Pirates removed Lirano scored three runs with two outs off the bullpen in the bottom of the seventh to give St. Louis the lead -- and a fighting chance in the game. And the Redbirds were able to make the most of it, winning an important National League Central Division contest late in the season.
Jon Jay came in to pinch hit for Peter Bourjos with Tony Cruz on second base. Jay lined a ball into centerfield that Andrew McCutchen bobbled to guarantee not only that there would be no play at the plate -- but that that Matt Carpenter would go from first to third and that Jay would cruise into second.
That was key because Matt Holliday singled in both runs to make the score 3-1 at the time. It would stay that way until McCutchen led off the bottom of the ninth with a no doubt solo home run off of closer Trever Rosenthal to make the game 3-2.
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The extra runner in scoring position proved to be the difference between a thrilling victory and the potential of another frustrating extra innings game.
Another big difference maker in the game was starting pitcher John Lackey who held the Pirates to one run on seven hits over seven innings. His only blemish was a solo shot that gave the Pirates a 1-0 cushion for most of the game.
Holliday and Wong led the Cardinals offense with two hits. Wong also played a big part in two of St. Louis' four key double plays. But he almost killed the Cardinals' big inning before it started when he singled in the seventh -- and then got picked off first base.
Wong leaned toward second on first movement by the Pirates pitcher and had no chance to get back when the hurler threw behind him.
While there are still enough games left to make a difference, the win was huge for the Cardinals who needed the Pirates last weekend to cool off the first place Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates run could have come back to haunt them if their success against the Brew Crew allowed the Bucs to get back in the race -- and then they kept it going through this series to catch the Redbirds.
Likewise, after losing two of three to the sad sack Phillies, I would have hated to see what it did to the Cardinals to lose three of their last four.