The Pittsburgh Pirates continued their season-long success against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night, topping their divisional rivals 7-1 in front of a jammed PNC Park to take over solo first place in the National League Central.
On a day when the Pirates (79-56) made big news off the field with the waiver-trade acquisition of former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, they were just as good on the diamond, defeating the Cardinals (78-57) for the 10th time in 15 meetings.
The Bucs are 7-2 against the Cards in Pittsburgh and have taken the first two games of this pivotal weekend series. They broke open a 2-1 game Saturday night with a five-run third inning off St. Louis starting pitcher Lance Lynn, with Russell Martin’s three-run homer serving as the evening’s biggest blow.
Martin’s shot to right-center, his 13th of the season and second in as many games, was sandwiched between RBI hits from Marlon Byrd and Neil Walker. Pitcher A.J. Burnett and Jose Tabata had hit run-scoring singles in the previous inning, but the Cardinals got a run back in the top of the third.
Burnett squelched the brief St. Louis rally by striking out Matt Holliday, then the Pirates got back to work at the plate. For the second straight night, Pittsburgh didn’t allow the Cardinals starter to throw five innings. Lynn went four frames after allowing seven runs on 10 hits, four of those for extra bases.
On the other side, Burnett tossed seven strong innings, permitting just four singles and one walk while fanning six Cardinals. Vin Mazzaro came on to finish the game in a low-stress situation; the Pirates bullpen has thrown three total frames in the last two games, as Francisco Liriano got through eight shutout innings in Friday’s 5-0 victory.
Walker had an RBI triple as part of his three-hit night, while Byrd and Tabata earned two hits each. Although the Pirates have averaged about three runs per game since July 1, they have put five or more on the board seven times in their last 12 outings.
Allen Craig picked up a team-high two hits for St. Louis. Four Cardinals relievers limited the Pirates to three hits over the final four innings, but too much damage had already been done.
With 2006 AL MVP Morneau expected to be in the lineup, the Pirates will hope to complete a sweep Sunday afternoon at 1:35. It’ll be a rookie matchup on the mound, with Kris Johnson getting his first MLB start for Pittsburgh, opposing Joe Kelly.
Notes: The Pirates have matched last season’s win total and are three victories away from clinching their first winning season since 1992…The crowd of 39,514 was the largest of the season and the second biggest in the 13-year history of PNC Park.