Pirates drill Cardinals

Thursday, August 2, 2007
Cardinals pitcher Braden Looper walked to the dugout after giving up a grand slam to Pittsburgh's Ronny Paulino during Wednesday's game in Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar ~ Associated Press)

Pittsburgh scored five in the first inning and never let up in the win.

PITTSBURGH -- Tony Armas waited all season for a night like this. Ronny Paulino could barely wait 24 hours to make up for a forgettable game that turned some of his own fans against him.

Paulino quieted some loud booing with a grand slam during a five-run Pittsburgh first inning, and Armas won as a starter for the first time in more than 10 months to carry the Pirates past St. Louis 15-1 on Wednesday night.

Armas (1-3) became only the second Pirates pitcher to win since the All-Star break, limiting the Cardinals to Aaron Miles' first home run over 6 1/3 innings for his first victory since beating the Mets while with Washington on Sept. 24, 2006.

Pittsburgh had season highs in runs (15) and hits (20), scoring seven runs in the eighth against Mike Maroth. It was the Pirates' most lopsided victory since June 11, 2005, when they beat Tampa Bay 18-2.

"This was a breath of fresh air," said Jack Wilson, who hit a solo homer. "We had a lot of really good at-bats."

The loss was the Cardinals' most lopsided since June 20, 2006, when they dropped a 20-6 decision to the White Sox.

The Cardinals were denied their first five-game winning streak since they won seven in a row in early July 2006. The Pirates had lost their last four and seven of eight and were 2-14 since the break, with Paul Maholm getting their only previous two wins since July 8.

Braden Looper (8-9) dominated the Pirates in his first two starts against them this season, allowing only one run in 13 innings. But his first inning rapidly came apart after he retired the first two batters as Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche and Jason Bay singled in succession to make it 1-0.

Paulino, booed upon being introduced because of his two fielding misplays that helped St. Louis to a 6-4 victory Tuesday, followed with a drive into a left field walkway to put the Pirates up 5-0. Paulino's grand slam was the first of his career and Pittsburgh's first this season.

"That was hard, that's the first time in my career that's happened to me," Paulino said of being booed. "But they pay to see a good show and they can do whatever they feel like."

Even after he homered, Paulino heard mixed boos and cheers his next time up -- a reflection of his season-long offensive slump since he hit .310 as a rookie last year and his repeatedly sloppy defense. He drew an error for muffing a popup and also dropped a throw to the plate in the span of little more than a minute to allow St. Louis to score the go-ahead run Tuesday.

Pirates manager Jim Tracy talked with Paulino before Wednesday's game, reinforcing that he is the Pirates' catcher and the way to overcome the ups and downs of the game is to play hard and concentrate.

"He's got a lot of faith in me," said Paulino, who is hitting .239. "He knows I can do better. He's a person that has given me a lot of respect, and I wanted to come back and play well."

Looper was lifted after pitching ineffectively for four innings, allowing seven runs and eight hits. He hasn't won consecutive starts since May 6 and 12.

"Basically, when I've been bad, I've been bad," Looper said. "Tonight I could not make an adjustment mechanically and every pitch was up, and when you do that, people are going to make you pay."

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Looper is learning a major league starter must take more to the mound than excellent stuff.

"Braden's finding out the demands of concentration over the span of 30 starts in six months," La Russa said. "He needs to do a better job of zeroing in."

Armas, yanked from the Pirates' rotation after going 0-3 with an 8.46 ERA in his first seven starts, appeared to get straightened out while allowing only one run in 12 innings during July. The right-hander gave up four hits, struck out five and walked one in his first start since May 17.

"You could see it when he was pitching in relief -- when his stuff started to come back, his confidence did, too," Tracy said.


* Paulino's homer was his sixth and his first since June 5.

* The Cardinals' Chris Duncan cost the Pirates some money when his bat went flying into the stands during the first inning and struck a vendor's lemonade tray, causing nearly all the drinks to spill. No one was hurt.

* Miles' homer came one day short of the first anniversary of his last previous homer.

* Before losing, the Cardinals had won 40 of 57 against the Pirates since 2004 and were 38-15 in Pittsburgh since 2001.

* Bay doubled for the first time since June 26.

* Sanchez had his seventh career four-hit game and made a succession of standout plays at second base.

* La Russa said Maroth was tipping his pitches, one reason he was roughed up.

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