PITTSBURGH • Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday mostly is compensated for his slugging, which he amply displayed in the sixth inning Monday night when he rocketed a tie-breaking home run to the opposite field to put Kyle Lohse ahead en route to a 4-3 win over the fast-fading Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
Lohse had to sweat out a 34-minute rain delay and five relief pitchers before he gained his eighth straight victory, raising his record to 14-2. Limited to a rare five-inning stint by manager Mike Matheny’s decision not to bring him back after the delay, Lohse was scored on only in the fourth inning when the Pirates bunched four singles and a sacrifice fly for two runs.
But the sacrifice fly wasn’t any of that can-of-corn stuff. With the bases loaded, Holliday had to sprint to his right on an increasingly wet track to flag down Josh Harrison’s ball, which could have gone for an extra-base hit in the vast expanse in left field.
"It was one of his better catches this year," said Matheny. "There was going to be another run score if it gets past him because it was going to kick around in that corner."
Holliday didn’t think the play was all that special.
"I’m glad I made it. It was all right but I expect to make that play," said Holliday.
But Lohse was impressed. "I thought it was a really good play," Lohse said. "It takes away two runs. He probably doesn’t get the credit that he deserves. He’s just not an average outfielder."
Lance Lynn, making his first relief appearance of the season, Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte were called on to finish the win, which put the Cardinals 14 games above .500 for the first time and three games ahead of the Pirates (2½ ahead of Los Angeles) in the National League wild-card competition. Motte gained his 31st save in four-out fashion, stranding two runners in the Pittsburgh eighth.
After Holliday had limited the damage in the Pittsburgh fourth, Lohse, an .080 hitter, then tied the score in a two-run Cardinals fifth, with an assist from third-base coach Jose Oquendo and the flying feet of gimpy Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
After Molina singled to right with nobody out, Skip Schumaker, hitting .533 for his last four games at eight for 15, doubled to left center. When center fielder Andrew McCutchen appeared to turn his ankle as he got to the ball and then dropped his arm briefly, assuming that Molina would stop at third, Oquendo kept Molina running and he scored easily.
"That was a great job by Oquendo," said Matheny. "(McCutchen) took a hesitation and Jose is as good as anyone over there at picking up those opportunities, especially when we’ve got a catcher who’s not running very well right now."
Molina said, "I was watching the coach. I’m playing, so I have to run 100 percent."
Schumaker went to third on an A.J. Burnett wild pitch and scored on a single by Lohse, who had been four for 50 at the time.
"I’m a little embarrassed about that," Lohse said. "I’m a little better than that."
But Lohse ran dry when he was waved home — but tagged out — as he tried to score on Matt Carpenter’s double to left center. "I was out of gas and my spikes were caked (with mud). It was a little slick and I was trying not to fall down," said Lohse.
"I know I’m a better runner than that but I’m not showing it. I was really going slow. I should have been able to score on that."
Holliday, however, gave the Cardinals their first lead at 3-2 when he lined his 24th home run.
"That ball was killed," said Matheny. "It seemed like it was still going up when it hit the stands."
Holliday said, "I like opposite-field home runs. That means my swing is in a pretty good spot."
The Cardinals added a run in the inning with the help of a Pirates throwing error before rain halted play. Then, Matheny went to Lynn rather than Lohse although Lohse thought he might have been able to continue.
"It was a tough decision," said Matheny. "He was at 83 pitches and he was still throwing the ball well at that point. He was under that length of time that you wouldn’t want him to just sit there. But you take into consideration him running the bases ... I’m not sure his legs felt real good after that.
"The part that wanted me to send him back out there had a lot to do with the fact I knew (Edward) Mujica was shut down today. We’d ridden him pretty hard (Mujica had pitched three times in the previous four days) and we knew we were going to be kind of thin."
Lynn got three sixth-inning fly balls, one of them run down by center fielder Jon Jay in deep right center.
Clint Barmes doubled in a run after an infield single and Rafael Furcal’s throwing error in the seventh to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 4-3. Lynn was then taken out for Salas, who was relieved by Boggs, who was relieved by Rzepczynski, who threw one pitch unsuccessfully. It went for an infield hit by Pedro Alvarez.
Matheny generally was pleased with Lynn, moved to the bullpen after five rough starts, and Lynn felt good about contributing, much as he did in last year’s postseason run.
"We’ve got a good setup down there to make a good run here," Lynn said. "It was OK for the first one, getting back into it. Hopefully, I’ll build off that one and do better the next time out."
Boggs, who rarely has been taken out of an eighth-inning assignment, seemed surprised to be lifted by Matheny for Rzepczynski, who had retired Alvarez in two previous at-bats while Alvarez was two for five against Boggs.
"I felt really good about the way it lined up," said Matheny, who made a point of talking to Boggs after the game, restating his confidence in Boggs.
Motte made the issue moot. But though the win was achieved in exciting fashion, Motte said it really wasn’t any different from a game in April.
"I’m trying to get them out in April and Holliday’s trying to drive guys in in April, just like he did tonight," he said.
"Winning’s fun, regardless of when you do it."