It's beginning to look more and more like a two team race in the National League Central Division.
The St. Louis Cardinals won their ninth game in the last 12 games, 3-2, with a single three-run inning in the top of the seventh inning to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates and keep pace with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew rolled to a 10-1 win in San Diego with Kyle Lohse making his return to the big club's starting rotation.
Matt Holliday knocked in the big one in that seventh inning when his single to left plated Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay. That broke a 1-1 tie and staked the Cardinals to just big enough of a lead to leave PNC Park with a game one win. Holliday came up with the game tied because Jay leveled the game in the at-bat prior. With Jared Hughes in to pitch for the left-handed Francisco Liriano, Jay took Peter Bourjos' spot in the batting lineup and knocked a pinch-hit RBI single up the middle.
It was the Pirates who struck first in the second when Pedro Alvarez lifted his third home run in as many games to center field. "El Toro" has found his power stroke after going well over a month without leaving the yard. With defensive problems confounding his offensive ability, "The Bull" had not homered since July 11 before blasting a pair of homers on Saturday in Milwaukee.
Pittsburgh will hope Alvarez sustains his hot hitting down the stretch. Last year's NL home run leader makes Pittsburgh's lineup much more formidable with a legitimate 30-home run threat packing the middle.
His solo job held up for a long time in a great pitching duel between John Lackey and Liriano. Both starters threw quality starts, Lackey for seven and Liriano for six. Lackey had his early struggles - allowing seven hits in the first four innings, but pitched around trouble before settled down to finish seven frames with the same hit total allowed.
He only walked one and struck out three batters. Liriano surrendered just four hits, but walked three in six innings. He shutout the Cardinals for two-thirds of the game, and left with the lead, but his bullpen could not convert the victory. It was the 10th time in his last 12 starts that he has allowed two runs or less. And one of those outings includes a three-run line.
Staked to the seventh inning lead, the Cardinals' bullpen did its job to convert the win for John Lackey. Pat Neshek continued his dominance this season with a perfect inning. And Trevor Rosenthal saved his 39th game after giving up a solo homer to Andrew McCutchen that made it a one-run game.
The loss for Pittsburgh sends it to six games back in the Central (and 4.5 behind St. Louis). The Pirates aren't out of the Wildcard race by any stretch though. The Bucs are 1.5 games back of the second spot, with St. Louis, San Francisco and Atlanta all ahead of them. These two resume the series with game two Tuesday night.