It was a Saturday afternoon of more St. Louis Cardinals heroics.
But the nagging question remained: Will it be enough?
Jedd Gyorko hit a tie-breaking home run with two outs in the eighth inning to highlight the Cardinals’ come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium.
The crowd of 43,328 also was thrilled by another key pinch-hit by Matt Holliday that fueled a three-run sixth and a stellar three-inning, 52-pitch relief performance by Trevor Rosenthal.
But the party lost some vigor two hours later when the San Francisco Giants defeated Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-0. The Giants maintained their one-game lead over the Cardinals in the chase for the second NL wild-card spot with one game to play.
The Cardinals must defeat Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale at 2:15 p.m. Sunday and see the Giants lose to the visiting Dodgers. That would force a tiebreaker Monday at Busch Stadium for the right to advance to play the New York Mets in the wild-card game on Wednesday at Citi Field in New York.
The Dodgers-Giants game also begins at 2:15 p.m.
Nine times this season the Cardinals (85-76) have tried to climb 10 games over .500. Nine times they have failed. Sunday will be their final opportunity to crack that nut.
“I didn’t even know,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “I knew we had to win a game. I know we have to win one (Sunday).”
Things started ominously for the Cardinals on Saturday as Michael Wacha allowed a three-run home to Jung Hi Kang in the first inning. Wacha didn’t return for the second.
But a parade of Cardinals relievers held the Pirates scoreless on five hits in the final eight innings. St. Louis tied the game in the sixth on a wild pitch by Antonio Bastardo, Holliday’s pinch-hit single and Matt Carpenter’s sacrifice fly.
Holliday, who was told Friday that the Cardinals weren’t likely to pick up the option on his contract in 2017, was activated hours later and homered as a pinch-hitter in the Cardinals’ 7-0 win over the Pirates.
Holliday told reporters Saturday morning that it would have been a fitting way for him to conclude his 7 1/2-year stint with the Cardinals, but Matheny couldn’t resist the temptation of using Holliday with runners at first and third in the sixth and St. Louis trailing 3-1.
Holliday dropped a single into right field against Juan Nicasio to make it 3-2 before Carpenter knotted the score with a long flyout to center.
“First of all, I wasn’t aware that he told you all that,” Matheny said of Holliday’s contentment with his feat Friday and how it would have been a fitting finale. “Basically, my conversation with him before the game was, ‘We’re always going to look to the player and see where they are physically and where they are psychologically.’
“We got into the middle of that game and just let him know that he’s the guy we’d like to see up there in a big situation. He responded by running to the clubhouse, getting his stuff and getting loose. He had a couple of innings because he could kind of see where it was going with us already using (Matt) Adams as a pinch-hitter and (Jeremy) Hazelbaker being out, too.”
It amounted to an encore.
“Part of the conversation was, ‘Hey, last night was special, but there’s nothing saying we can’t do a follow-up and keep it going,’” Matheny said. “He came through big.”
Holliday was not available for comment after the game, but his teammates continued to marvel at what he’s been able to do in the last two games after not playing in a game since Aug. 11 when his right thumb was broken by a pitch from the Chicago Cubs’ Mike Montgomery.
“That’s just unheard of to be able to come in and have quality at-bats off big-league pitchers the way he did,” Gyorko said. “That’s huge for us.”
Gyorko’s home run gave him 30 this season, the highest total of his career by seven. After plate umpire Alfonso Marquez didn’t call out Gyorko on a 2-2 pitch that caught the corner, Gyorko made the Pirates pay with a line-drive homer into the seats in right field on a triple-digit offering from left-hander Felipe Rivero.
“I thought it had a good chance, but you’re never really sure,” said Gyorko, adding that the 2-2 breaking ball from Rivero “was a good pitch.”
“When a guy’s throwing 101, that’s a pitch you can’t do anything with,” Gyorko said. “I probably didn’t swing at it because I knew I couldn’t hit it. That’s what it comes down to. Beyond that, I was just battling and trying to get a good pitch to hit.”
Rosenthal, who missed significant time this season because of shoulder and forearm issues, was free and easy in the third, fourth and fifth innings. He allowed two hits, walked one and fanned four. The 52 pitches thrown were a career-high.
“I felt good,” Rosenthal said. “I was just going off Yadi (Molina). We were mixing in different pitches and I was trying to just play catch with him, throw what he called and throw it right to him. It worked out. It was a lot of fun to be out there in a game like that.”
Other relievers were Miguel Socolovich, Matt Bowman, Jonathan Broxton, Kevin Siegrist and Seung Hwan Oh, who posted his 19th save with a nail-biting ninth inning in which Pittsburgh stranded runners at second and third.
Bowman struck out two in a perfect sixth and Broxton fanned the side in a one-two-three seventh. Siegrist (6-3) earned the win with a strong eighth. Relievers struck out a season-high 12.
Cardinals 4, Pirates 3
Jedd Gyorko’s home run with two outs in the eighth inning, his 30th of the season, snapped a 3-3 tied and gave the Cardinals a one-run win over Pittsburgh. Gyorko has homered in three consecutive games.
By the numbers
The Cardinals moved nine games above .500 for the 10th time this season. They have not been 10 games over .500 this season. ... Matt Holliday had no pinch-hit RBIs until Friday. Now he has two in two days. ... Yadier Molina needs one hit Sunday to surpass his career-high of 161. ... The Cardinals have 42 come-from-behind wins.
Adam Wainwright (13-9, 4.67 ERA) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (3-7, 5.00 ERA), 2:15 p.m. Sunday