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Cards take step back, Wainwright moves forward in loss to Bucs

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PITTSBURGH • One step back in the standings. One giant leap for their ace.

The Pittsburgh Pirates thumped the Cardinals, 8-2, in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday at PNC Park. But there, locked in the eighth inning of otherwise forgettable game for the Cardinals, was the return of a familiar, curveball-toting starter, recast for the next month as a reliever.

Adam Wainwright pitched the eighth inning of the loss for his first work since his Achilles' tendon ruptured on April 25.

Wainwright flashed his assortment of pitches and was able to get through five batters and allow one run on two hits. The one run came on a couple hits that squirted over or by a fielder's glove. Josh Harrison tagged a double to center field that turned center fielder Tommy Pham around before going to the wall, and then Harrison scored on a groundball just under the glove of second baseman Kolten Wong.

"That adrenaline is something you can’t mimic in sim games and live BP," Wainwright said. "That’s something that is only real-life game action type stuff. So good, so, so good to be back out there."

Wainwright threw 15 pitches, 12 of which were strikes.

He struck out the first batter he faced on a 94-mph sinker.

That batter, Francisco Cervelli, had done the most damage against the other Cardinals pitchers during the afternoon game. The Bucs' catcher hit a grand slam in the fourth inning that snapped a 1-1 tie, and in the sixth inning he doubled off reliever Miguel Socolovich to then later score the Bucs' seventh run of the rout.

Pirates righthander Gerrit Cole delivered as the Pirates needed.

With elimination from the division race only a loss to the Cardinals away, Cole pitched seven innings and limited the Cardinals to two runs on seven hits. He struck out two, but minimized the damage by not walking a batter. One of the runs came on a mammoth home run by Matt Carpenter (detailed below).

Michael Wacha had fits of struggling that cost him. Cervelli's grand slam in the fourth inning came after two walks, only one of which was intentional. Wacha allowed six runs on four hits and four walks in four innings.

"It’s not what the team needed," Wacha said. "I wanted to go out there and win that first game. I just didn’t make pitches when I need to. They made me pay for my mistakes."

The Cardinals' magic number freezes at two.

The Pirates moved to three games behind the division leaders with another game to play at 6 p.m. St. Louis time tonight.

Wainwright will next be available to pitch Friday in Atlanta, if needed.

"The call became real all of a sudden," he said. "Just a great feeling. I’ve been telling ya’ll I was going to pitch this year. When you asked me I tried to be truthful. And I did. And I am going to continue to."

***

Carpenter homers into river, Cards just swamped

There were 24 different players in the history of PNC Park to plop a home run into the Allegheny River, which runs along the right-field edge of the ballpark, just beyond a walkway.

Make it 25.

Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter's show of power continued with his 28th home run of the season and the 38th in PNC history to get get wet. Carpenter's home run off Pirates ace Gerrit Cole cleared the seats that loom near right field and hit a grassy slope that leads to the river, where it skipped to a finish. The distance of the solo home run was estimated at 435 feet.

It seems like the Cardinals have to go a bit further to get back in this game.

Despite the homer by Carpenter, the Pirates have opened a 7-2 lead on the Cardinals through seven innings. Carpenter's solo homer cut the lead to four runs before Pittsburgh answered Francisco Cervelli's double and Jordy Mercer's RBI single off reliever Miguel Socolovich.

The Cardinals have started making changes as if to prepare for their lineup in tonight's second half of the doubleheader.

Out of the game is Tony Cruz, who has put three pitches to the center field wall and has two doubles in the game. Into the game comes Travis Tartamella, who continues to get an intriguing run here as the first catcher in and could be the extra catcher the Cardinals take into a playoff series if they're hopeful that Yadier Molina can contribute.

***

Bucs plunder Wacha, go grand for 6-1 lead

It only took several years and so, so many home runs but the Cardinals have finally settled on an approach with Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez that keeps him in the park.

They walk him.

In his first three plate appearances Monday, the Cardinals walked Alvarez. In his second plate appearance Wednesday during Game 1 of the doubleheader, Alvarez came up with two runners on and first base open. The Cardinals didn't even fake their intent. They went immediately to four balls and put him on base, daring the next batter, Francisco Cervelli, to beat them. He did.

Cervelli drilled the second pitch he saw from Michael Wacha -- an 85-mph changeup, center over the plate and right in the wheelhouse for Cervelli to lift into the left-field seats.

The grand slam broke a 1-1 tie and was the thrust of a five-run inning for the Pirates that vaulted them ahead 6-1 through 4 1/2 innings.

The inning also hastened Wacha's departure from his final start of the regular season. The Cardinals righthander has slowed at the finish of the season, allowing six runs on four hits and four walks in his final four innings of the regular season. It took Wacha 87 pitches to get the 12 outs from the Pirates, and the fourth inning was particularly bruising. Wacha walked three batters in the inning, and only Alvarez was intentional. He also allowed three hits -- two of them blistered.

Leadoff hitter Gregory Polanco -- the last batter Wacha would face -- laced a double to right-center field to score Jordy Mercer for the Bucs' sixth run.

Polanco would get caught trying to stretch for a triple.

Pirates starter Gerrit Cole has held the Cardinals to a run and two hits through five innings. He's yet to strike out a batter.

***

Cards tie game, 1-1, on Holliday's RBI single

Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday, still working his way back into a complete-game everyday role with the team, skipped a single past a drawn in field for the team's first run of the game.

His fist pump as he made his way to first revealed the importance of the hit.

Holliday's single scored Matt Carpenter and tied the game, 1-1, at PNC Park. Pirates starter Gerrit Cole had retired the first nine batters he faced, and the first hit and baserunner for the Cardinals happened when Carpenter opened the fourth inning with a leadoff double. From there both teams played for a close, low-scoring game:

  • Jon Jay bunted so Carpenter could reach third with one out.
  • The Pirates brought the infield in against Holliday.

Holliday's groundball single would have been an out with the infield at normal depth. With the shortstop pressed in to make a throw to the plate, Holliday's rap got past him and into center field, giving Carpenter plenty of time to score. Holliday reached second when the Pirates were unable to convert a routine double play.

The next batter, Jhonny Peralta, singled to right and Holliday attempted to score from second base. The throw from right fielder Gregory Polanco beat him and Holliday was tagged out at home for the final out of the inning.

***

With Bucs' hopes in his hands, Cole perfect through three

If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to stay alive in the race for the National League Central crown they must sweep the doubleheader against the Cardinals and hope for help from Atlanta.

Through three innings, Gerrit Cole is doing his part.

The Pirates' ace, thrust into a start in Game 1 because of Tuesday's rainout, is perfect through three innings against the Cardinals. Cole, who is going for his 19th win, has retired all nine batters he's faced. Only three of them have been able to get the ball out of the infield. He's yet to strike out batter. He'll save that for the second time through the order, likely.

The Pirates have a 1-0 lead for Cole with a solo homer from second baseman Neil Walker. Michael Wacha hit a batter and walked a batter in the first inning, but was able to get a double play ball to keep the Bucs scoreless.

In the second, Walker led off with a homer, his 16th of the season.

***

Cardinals will keep champagne on ice

If the Cardinals are able to topple the Pirates in Game 1 of Wednesday's doubleheader at PNC Park, they will clinch their third consecutive National League Central division title and the ninth 100-win season in club history.

They will, however, not celebrate either of those things.

The team with the best record in baseball are on pace to be the third of the division winners in the National League to have a champagne celebration. So what's a few more hours?

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said if the team wins Game 1 and clinches the division, it will not have the customary celebration in the clubhouse because there will be another game a few hours later. The team will wait and after Game 2, win or lose, pop the bubbly at that point before flying to Atlanta. 

Stephen Piscotty is expected to attend. The Cardinals plan for him to be in the dugout for the first game and with them. He does have some more tests to complete as he goes through the concussion protocols set out by Major League Baseball.

The Pirates shifted their pitching assignments today to get ace Gerrit Cole pitching game one because, as manager Clint Hurdle said, it is the Bucs' first elimination game of the season. The Cardinals did not respond by moving Michael Wacha to the evening game, splitting the two best pitchers set to pitch today. Matheny said he didn't give it much thought. Wacha's turn is to go first, so Wacha goes first against Cole.

Adam Wainwright was added to the active roster on Wednesday morning.

To make room on the 40-man for him, the Cardinals place Carlos Martinez (shoulder) on the 60-day disabled list. That does not change his status for next season, nor does it mean much for the coming month that wasn't already obvious with the team shutting him down for the year. 

Wainwright will be available out of the bullpen in either game.

He's good for an inning of work.

Before the game, he took to the field to warm up, test his arm, and play catch -- just like all the other relievers did. His catch partner is lefty Randy Choate.

***

Jay gets the nod in center in Cardinals first game

With Stephen Piscotty still recovering from Monday night's collision, Jon Jay gets an outfield start in the first of Wednesday's two games with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And Adam Wainwright has officially been activated to the 40-man roster. He could make a relief appearance in one of today's games. 

To make room for Wainwright, the Cardinals put Carlos Martinez on the 60-day disabled list.

We'll have more notes from PNC Park as the day progresses, but for now it's the lineup:

Carpenter, 3B

Jay, CF

Holliday, LF

Heyward, RF

Peralta, SS

Reynolds, 1B

Wong, 2B

Cruz, C

Wacha, P

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