Cards' Duncan delivers in clutch

Thursday, April 12, 2007
Pittsburgh Pirates pinch-hitter Don Kelly slid safely back to first base as St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols took the throw during a pickoff attempt in the seventh inning Wednesday in Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic ~ Associated Press)

PITTSBURGH -- So Taguchi couldn't have had a much better day, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and reaching base four times. With the game on the line in the ninth inning, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa felt he had an even better option.

Chris Duncan, pinch hitting for the perfect-until-then Taguchi, homered off Pittsburgh closer Salomon Torres to give St. Louis a 3-2 victory over the Pirates on Wednesday and a three-game sweep.

"That second spot was hot today," La Russa said.

Duncan's homer was his fourth as a pinch hitter in 28 at-bats the last two seasons and made for another rough day for Torres (0-1), who squandered a 2-0 lead and a save opportunity during the ninth Tuesday night before the Cardinals won 3-2 in the 12th.

"When I saw Torres warming up, I figured that's who I was going to face," Duncan said. "Tony kind of gave me a head's up. I made sure I stayed warm and I was ready to go when I got my opportunity."

Duncan saw nothing but fastballs when he walked against Torres the night before, and he kept looking for the fastball again until he got one below the knees on a 2-2 pitch.

"Late in the game, you can't afford to walk guys and they [the relievers] are a little more aggressive," Duncan said. "I knew he had a good fastball, I just wanted to make sure I was ready to hit it."

La Russa said he didn't automatically hit for Taguchi because a right-hander was on the mound -- Taguchi doubled against right-hander Jonah Bayliss in the seventh.

"It's late in the game, the [Pirates] bullpen's not very deep, and you know Chris has a shot to do some damage," La Russa said. "I wasn't thinking home run, but I thought he'd get on first base ahead of Albert [Pujols]."

Torres blamed himself for not going after the hitters like he usually does, saying he was trying to pinpoint pitches so he didn't get behind in the count.

"I've got to put it behind me," Torres said. "I wanted to get back out there, but I wasn't as aggressive as I should have been. Now I know what I've got to fix, and I'm going to fix it. I've done it before. I don't have to go to school for four years to find out what I'm doing wrong."

The Cardinals are 36-15 against the Pirates since 2004 and have won 31 of their last 40 against their NL Central rivals, but had not swept a three-game series in PNC Park since Aug. 27 to 29, 2004.

Ryan Franklin (1-0) got four outs for the victory as the Cardinals won their fourth in a row and fifth in six games since dropping their first three of the season to the Mets. The Pirates lost their third in a row and are 1-5 since sweeping Houston in a three-game series.

St. Louis didn't need many runs to sweep, scoring only nine runs -- three in each game. But the Cardinals didn't require many runs with the pitching they got, limiting the Pirates to four runs in 30 innings.

"We're doing a little bit on offense, we're pitching well, we're defending well," La Russa said. "Just like when we lost three in a row, that didn't mean we were a bad ballclub, and getting above .500 doesn't mean we're a juggernaut, either."

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