PITTSBURGH -- The Cardinals have stormed into the thick of the National League Central race on the strength of their lineup, and they needed every last bit of it Friday night. The Cards' bullpen nearly let an eight-run lead slip away but withstood a furious Pirates rally to give St. Louis an 11-10 win over Pittsburgh at PNC Park.
"Never a doubt. Never a doubt," Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter insisted. "It was interesting, for sure. But I knew we'd find a way to finish it off."
St. Louis' second straight win kept the club within 1 1/2 games of the NL Central-leading Cubs. Meanwhile, the Pirates lost their sixth straight -- tied for their longest skid of the season -- and fell 6 1/2 games behind the Cubs.
The Cardinals have won 10 of their last 13 games, scoring 101 runs during that span. They used a barrage of long balls to blow past Pirates starter Trevor Williams. Tommy Pham went deep in the first, Carpenter hit a three-run tater in the second and Paul DeJong smacked a solo shot in the third to give the Cards a 6-2 lead after three innings. They tacked on two runs in the fourth, then DeJong and Dexter Fowler each plated a run in the sixth.
Jose Martinez, who subbed in for Fowler with the game seemingly out of hand, drove in the Cards' final run in the eighth. Then came the comeback.
Max Moroff launched a two-run homer into the Allegheny River in the eighth, Josh Bell doubled in another run and Elias Diaz lined a two-run double to right-center field off reliever Mike Mayers, pulling the Pirates within three. That rally turned a rout into a save situation, so St. Louis, which is without injured closer Trevor Rosenthal, turned to right-hander Matt Bowman.
Starling Marte and Moroff each walked with one out, then Bowman plunked Sean Rodriguez to load the bases. In came Zach Duke, who walked in a run. Finally, the Cards called upon Seung Hwan Oh to finish the game. After David Freese ripped a sacrifice fly that fell just short of the wall in center field, Oh intentionally walked Adam Frazier and struck out Diaz to preserve the narrow victory.
"Any win we get is big, but we're in a corner right there," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We have to have somebody come in, make some big pitches for us, and Oh did a nice job of that. Just sometimes you have to figure out a way to scratch and claw until the end."
"They continue to play. They continue to fight. They've got a lot of pride in what they do," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of his team. "We came up a run short at the end of the night. That's never the goal. The goal is to go out there and lay everything on the field, and they left everything out on the field tonight."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED Big blast: Carpenter kept the pedal to the metal with one swing in the second. With two on and two out, Carpenter swatted Williams' 89.8-mph sinker out to center field for a three-run homer. Carpenter's 16th home run of the season came off his bat at 100.4 mph, according to Statcast™, and traveled a projected 403 feet to give the Cards a 5-1 lead.
"The one I knew was hit [hard] was Carpenter's. It was a sinker I just left up, and he went down and got it," Williams said. "Solo homers usually don't hurt you, but it's the three-run homers that do a lot of damage. That was tough. Kind of took the wind out of our sails."
Out at third: Diaz ran into what wound up being a critical out in the eighth inning after slicing a two-run double into the gap. The rookie catcher hustled around second base and decided, on his own, to try for third.
"I think he made a baserunning decision," Hurdle said. "You don't want to make that out at third. No way. He'd be the first one to tell you that."
Randal Grichuk's throw from right field found second baseman Greg Garcia, who -- somewhat to Diaz's surprise -- threw to third base rather than home plate. The ball reached Jedd Gyorko in time for him to tag out Diaz. Instead of having a man on third with one out, Jordy Mercer came to the plate against Brett Cecil with two outs and nobody on, and lined out to right field.
"It was completely my call. I sincerely thought the throw was going to be toward home," Diaz said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "That's why I tried to take advantage of that. Unfortunately, it didn't work."
"I was afraid at first, but in the [box score] it's going to be an out. And an out is just an out. I felt pretty good after that one." -- Oh, on Freese's 374-foot drive to the warning track with the bases loaded in the ninth
"That would have been a big hook to flop off of. Baseball's crazy. We came into the bottom of the ninth with a chance to win the game. … If [Freese's sacrifice fly] was earlier in the game, we're walk-off grand slam winners. It's weird." -- Williams, on the near-comeback
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Moroff hit his second Major League homer in the eighth inning, sending a two-run shot out of PNC Park and one-hopping it into the Allegheny River. Moroff became the 30th different player to reach the river. According to Statcast™, Moroff's shot traveled a projected 420 feet with an exit velocity of 107.5 mph and a 37-degree launch angle.
"I hit that really well," Moroff said. "Next time, I'll try to hit it in the river in the air."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With runners on the corners and nobody out in the fourth, left-hander Steven Brault relieved Williams on the mound. Carlos Martinez dropped a sacrifice bunt in front of the plate, and Brault slid to field the ball before flipping it to catcher Diaz. Grichuk slid around Diaz's tag, giving the Cards a five-run lead. The Pirates asked for a replay, but the call was ruled to stand after a one-minute and 35-second review, costing Pittsburgh its challenge.
Following the game, the Cardinals optioned Mayers back to Triple-A Memphis. The move came just hours after Mayers had been added to the roster in place of an injured Adam Wainwright. Mayers, who allowed five runs (four earned) in two-thirds of an inning on Friday, has now allowed 22 earned runs in 10 big league innings.
"I feel for the kid because he has been dominating down in Memphis since we moved him to the bullpen," Matheny said. "He's throwing the ball so well. There are some things that he needs to work on, but I know he's been doing it down there and that's why he's frustrated. He just expected it to translate. And I believe it will. This is just one of the learning the lessons the hard way."
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals:Michael Wacha will start for the Cardinals on Saturday as they continue their series at PNC Park with a 3:05 p.m. CT game. Wacha is 5-2 with a 2.83 ERA over his last eight starts, the eighth-best ERA among National League pitchers during that span.
Pirates: Right-hander Chad Kuhl will start for the Pirates on Saturday as they host the Cardinals at 4:05 p.m. ET at PNC Park. Kuhl is 0-2 with a 5.50 ERA in four career starts against the Cards. He is 3-4 with a 5.15 ERA in 12 home starts this season.