Cardinals keep pace by rallying in ninth

Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter hits a two-run single during the second inning Tuesday in Pittsburgh. (GENE PUSKAR ~ Associated Press)

PITTSBURGH -- Not even a shaky defensive performance by Albert Pujols could cool the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals.

Nick Punto hit a go-ahead double in the ninth inning, and the surging Cardinals overcame three errors by their superstar first baseman to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-4 on Tuesday night.

The Cardinals won for the sixth time in seven games.

"We still got a huge hole to climb out of, but at least we're playing some meaningful baseball in September," Punto said.

The loss dropped the Pirates to 67-81. Once in the midst of a promising run, they are stuck with a non-winning season for the 19th straight year. Pittsburgh is just 16-37 since briefly moving into first place July 19.

St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte (30) celebrates with Albert Pujols, center, and catcher Yadier Molina after getting the final out of the Cardinals' 6-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

"We haven't done enough things in a number of these games that have put us in position to have 81 losses," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who worked on the day he signed a $21 million, two-year contract, hit an early two-run single. He took a 4-2 lead into the seventh, but Andrew McCutchen tied it with a two-out homer.

"I was battling all night, but I made some good pitches when I had to," Carpenter said. "It was one of those nights ... but it wasn't like they were bashing it all over the place. But we did what we needed to do, and that's what's important right now."

The Pirates brought in closer Joel Hanrahan (0-4) in the ninth inning of a tie game, and he struggled with his command. Daniel Descalso collected his third single with one out and was replaced by Tyler Greene.

Punto has struggled with injuries this year but looked just fine drilling a Hanrahan fastball into the gap, which allowed Greene to score easily. Pujols provided some insurance with a sacrifice fly to take some of the sting out of his woeful night in the field. The two-time Gold Glove winner now has 14 errors this season.

First baseman Albert Pujols smiles after the Cardinals defeated the Pirates on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. (GENE PUSKAR ~ Associated Press)

"When you play this game, crazy things are going to happen," Pujols said. "At the end, I just flip the page and I'm glad we got the win and those three errors didn't cause a loss."

The Pirates put runners on first and second with no outs in the ninth, but Pedro Ciriaco bunted into a forceout, and Neil Walker grounded into a double play to end it.

Kyle McClellan (11-6) earned the win in relief, and Jason Motte worked the ninth for his sixth save.

Carpenter, now signed to stay with St. Louis through 2013, allowed 10 hits, struck out six and walked one. The 36-year-old right-hander appeared well on his way to his 10th victory of the season until McCutchen hit his 23rd homer, snapping out of a 1-for-15 slump.

"I had good stuff tonight," Carpenter said. "I felt like I did the best I could and I got beat by one pitch late in the game."

Pittsburgh, which rallied for a dramatic 6-5 win Monday, couldn't finish the job this time as the Cardinals kept alive their flickering playoff hopes.

"It was a good, gutty hang-in-there type of win, especially after yesterday," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "You get your heart broken, which means it wasn't broken, it was just bruised a little bit."

Heartbreak is an all-too familiar feeling in Pittsburgh, and some baserunning gaffes helped continue the team's late-summer swoon.

The Pirates lost an apparent run in the fifth after Ciriaco tagged up on a fly by Derrek Lee. Carpenter threw the ball to third and Ciriaco was called out on appeal for leaving too early.

Hurdle came out to argue before heading back to the dugout, then took up the cause a half-inning later and promptly was ejected for the fifth time this season.

"I couldn't let Pedro wear it," Hurdle said. "Everybody in the ballpark thinks he left early and that's not normal protocol to go in there after that, but I had someone I trust tell me, 'No, he left right on time,' and I just can't let the kid wear it. I've got to have his back."

Lee singled and scored on Pujols' error in the second, and hit a solo home run in the third. Still, it wasn't enough to prevent the Pirates from coming within one loss of yet another losing season.

"I made three mistakes, three errors, and they made some mistakes running the bases," Pujols said. "It happens. It's part of the game."

Noteworthy

* St. Louis OF Matt Holliday left before batting in the ninth after having trouble gripping the bat with his right hand. He'll be examined today.

* The Cardinals activated reliever Eduardo Sanchez from the 60-day DL. He hasn't pitched since June because of a strained shoulder.

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