The Cardinals beat the Pirates 4-1 Saturday, regaining their 6.5-game lead in the NL Central and further increasing the chances that the Pirates will play the Cubs in the NL Wild Card game.
Jaime Garcia pitched seven scoreless innings, using his slider and his excellent two-seam fastball to rack up one strikeout after another. Meanwhile, a messy second inning interrupted what was otherwise a pretty good start for Charlie Morton. The Cardinals loaded the bases without a hit, as Morton walked Kolten Wong, hit Jon Jay and, after Garcia's sacrifice bunt, walked Matt Carpenter. Then Stephen Piscotty hit a chopper up the middle. Josh Harrison had to rush his throw to first, and Mike Morse couldn't scoop it. The play was ruled a single and an error on Harrison, and it gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.
Garcia cruised through the middle innings, but the Pirates finally threatened in the seventh. Sean Rodriguez (who produced much of the Pirates' offense today, going 3-for-4) hit a one-out double and moved to third on a wild pitch. Aramis Ramirez then pinch-hit for Morton and drew a walk.
The Cardinals ended the threat by retiring Harrison on a grounder up the middle, however, and then they came to the plate and padded their lead against Arquimedes Caminero in the eighth. Greg Garcia walked, and then Carpenter blasted a Caminero fastball for a two-run homer to left-center.
The Cardinals had closer Trevor Rosenthal pitch the ninth. With a four-run lead, they didn't really need to do that, and Rosenthal gave the Pirates a sporting chance. The Bucs got one run, as Neil Walker singled with two outs, moved up on a wild pitch, and moved up on a ground-ball single by Pedro Alvarez. Rosenthal, plainly struggling to keep his fastball down, then walked Harrison to bring the tying run to the plate. Rosenthal finally whiffed Gregory Polanco, which was too bad -- a three-run homer by Polanco to tie the game against the Cardinals would have been epic. In any case, Rosenthal got all three of his outs via the strikeout, giving the Cardinals 14 for the day.
The Pirates now have 28 games left, and they need to make up a 6.5-game deficit to win the division. That's not quite impossible, but their road to first place would have been much, much easier with victories today and tomorrow. Now the best they can do this series is leave St. Louis 5.5 games back.