Gerrit Cole pitched seven strong innings and Aramis Ramirez, Sean Rodriguez and Starling Marte homered as the Pirates crushed the Cardinals 7-1. The Bucs leave St. Louis after taking two of three and shrinking the Cardinals' division lead to 5.5 games. That's still a big deficit, and the Bucs would have been in much better position if they'd swept the series, but they're closer to first place than they were a few days ago.
For whatever it's worth, the win was also the Pirates' 81st, which means they've avoided a losing season for the third year in a row. It's to the Bucs' credit that we don't worry about that kind of thing anymore.
It looked at first as if the Pirates might be in for a long night. Cole was all over the place in the first inning, walking two batters. He also walked pitcher John Lackey to lead off the third.
The Bucs took a 1-0 lead in the fourth, though. Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte singled, and Polanco moved up to third as Andrew McCutchen grounded into a double play. Then Ramirez walked, and Neil Walker came through with a big hit, scoring Polanco on a soft liner to right.
Meanwhile, despite Cole's wildness (and some inconsistent ball and strike calls that didn't always help him), the Cardinals somehow still didn't have a hit through four. Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter singled in the fifth, but by that point Cole was in a groove.
He also helped himself offensively. In the seventh, Pedro Alvarez hit a one-out double, then was replaced on the bases by Rodriguez. Cole came to the plate with two outs and dropped a soft hit into center to give the Bucs a 2-0 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Cole struck out the last two batters he faced, then exited, having struck out seven and walked three over seven shutout frames.
The Pirates' offense opened the floodgates in the late innings. Ramirez hit his solo homer in the eighth, reaching out awkwardly for a curveball but knocking it over the fence in left. Then, after Steve Cishek replaced Lackey and Francisco Cervelli hit a two-out double, Sean Rodriguez continued to raise questions about what exactly is going on with Sean Rodriguez, smashing a sinker to center for a two-run shot.
Tony Watson had already been warming up, so he pitched the eighth even though the Pirates had a five-run lead. Josh Harrison pinch-hit for him against Tyler Lyons in the ninth and reached on an error, then came home as Marte hit a two-run homer of his own. Joakim Soria pitched the home half of the ninth and gave up a run, but by that point, the Pirates' damage was done.
The Bucs probably didn't make as much headway as they would have liked in this series, but if they end up in the Wild Card game next month, this three-game set won't have been the reason why. They were running short on time before this series even started. Stepping back, the Pirates did blow out baseball's best team twice in three games. More than that would have been asking a lot.