A blowout, a shutout, a walk-off and a comeback. In these past four games, the Pirates have shown they can win nearly any way possible.
More importantly, they have shown they can win when it matters most.
In what was billed as the biggest series in PNC Park history, the Pirates now have a chance to go for a five-game sweep after beating the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-4, Wednesday night in come-from-behind fashion.
The Pirates wrestled first place in the National League Central Division from St. Louis Tuesday. Wednesday, they ensured that the Cardinals will leave Pittsburgh with the Pirates in first.
“Sure, I imagined it,” reliever Tony Watson said. “But, any time it’s an actual reality, it would be nice.”
Russell Martin’s eighth-inning single drove in the winning run, scoring Neil Walker from second to seal a win in a game in which the Pirates trailed by as many as two.
Walker hit a leadoff single and moved into scoring position with some aggressive baserunning. Pedro Alvarez flied out to deep left, but Walker tagged up at first and dashed to second with two outs.
“That’s a key in these close games; it’s the small things,” Walker said.
It was the 25th comeback win this season for the Pirates (65-42), who extended their NL Central lead to 2 1/2 games and handed the Cardinals (62-44) a seventh consecutive loss, their longest losing streak under manager Mike Matheny.
“This is the second game of these four that we were right there and had opportunities to do something with and had a different look,” Matheny said. “Still making some hard outs, but it’s the big hit. That’s what usually differentiates a game like this.”
These wins have shown the Pirates won’t shrink in the spotlight, said shortstop Clint Barmes, who has watched young players evolve to embrace big games late in the season.
“Last year, we had a lot of guys that were getting their first taste of the big leagues and being put in big situations where we were counting on them while we were still in it,” he said. “That’s a lot of pressure as a rookie, not knowing, for one, if you can play at this level, but to go in in that type of situation would be tough.”
Wednesday, one of those second-year players, Starling Marte, went 1 for 3 and scored two runs. Barmes, who struggled early this season, continued his recent surge, going 2 for 3 with an RBI double.
Watson and Vin Mazzaro each pitched two scoreless innings to keep the game knotted in the late innings. Watson earned the win, his third this season.
“I didn’t have my best stuff, so I had to battle it out, grind it out,” Watson said. “It’s kind of the epitome of how our team’s been going — just grind out wins and move onto the next one.”
The Pirates’ comeback provided a lift for starter Jeff Locke, who struggled through four innings. In his shortest start this season, Locke allowed four earned runs and surrendered a career-high 10 hits, striking out six and walking one.
“I’m not going to say I was fortunate to get through four innings, but fortunate to leave the game and still have the game intact,” he said.
Throughout the season, Locke has managed to emerge mostly unscathed from jams that often resulted from too many walks. This time, the Cardinals made him pay for those mistakes as an offense that scored three runs over the past three games — spanning 29 innings — surpassed that mark in four.
After some of his past starts, Locke said he eventually would have a rough outing. He also said he hoped his offense would save him.
“That’s a perfect example of what I was talking about,” he said.
Trevor Rosenthal was the loser after giving up singles to Walker and Martin in the eighth.
Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, who entered the game with a 5.20 career ERA against the Pirates, allowed four earned runs and eight hits over seven innings. He struck out six and walked one on 108 pitches, 69 of them strikes.
“I’m just real frustrated that the offense did a great job out there against an All-Star pitcher, score four runs, 10 hits, got him out of their early,” Wainwright said. “They gave me the lead three times, and I blew the save three times.”
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