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Flaherty dazzles again, Cardinals drop Pirates 2-0

The Cardinals' Harrison Bader drives in a run with a single off Pirates starting pitcher James Marvel in the fifth inning of a game on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH — Matt Carpenter, a Cardinals linchpin for the past half dozen years, has started just twice in the past week as the equation for his playing time has changed with the continued success of rookie Tommy Edman. But Carpenter has extracted mileage from those starts.

After a two-hit game on Thursday in St. Louis, Carpenter had two more on Sunday in the Cardinals’ 2-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Counting a couple of pinch hits, he has a modest hitting streak of four games in which he is six for eight but still is hitting just .226 this season.

“He’s a pro’s pro,” manager Mike Shildt said of the third baseman. “He got a couple of hits and he did a nice defensive job, as usual. Like everybody else, he understands it’s about the team.

“You want to be able to have as much responsibility as possible and play but, ultimately, he’s got his head in the right spot to help us win baseball games.”

Carpenter said, “I’m just ready to play when I get a chance. I feel I’m having good at-bats when I get the opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of it.”

The first hit was the more impressive. He hustled a fifth-inning double out of what should have been a single down the left-field line and then scored the game’s first run on a one-out single up the middle by Harrison Bader. Carpenter boldly forced an offline throw from left fielder Bryan Reynolds after his hit.

“At that point in the game, we hadn’t had anything going,” Carpenter said. “Jack (pitcher Flaherty) was going to have to take an at-bat, and Bader was next, so I thought it was a good time to push it. It ended up being a big play.

“Just trying to put pressure on the defense and make something happen,” Carpenter added.

Admiring teammate Marcell Ozuna said, “He was aggressive. He wanted that double and he took it. That was the ballgame, right there.

“If he was lazy and stayed on first, we might not have scored and we kill the inning.”

Bader, who had struggled at bat lately until Saturday, said, “It wasn’t like a 105 mile an hour line drive, but it was nice to have one dump for me.”

The outfielder had had four hitless games in succession before he had three hits and knocked in three runs in his past two games.

MOLINA’S 153RD SHUTOUTAlthough his hitting streak ended at 14 games, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina handled his 153rd shutout, four behind third-place Carlton Fisk in the all-time rolls.

The shutout was the Cardinals’ seventh since Aug. 13 when Molina returned for a second time from a strained right thumb. In that period he also has hit .311, boosting his average 13 points to .274, with four homers and 13 runs batted in.

He had sat out for nearly six weeks the second time after coming back only two weeks after he initially had hurt the thumb in late May.

Addressing the first time Molina returned, Shildt said, “This is a warrior. The guy loves to compete and wants to get on the field. Sometimes it can be at the expense of willing to play not at his best and compromised. He was like that for a while before the All-Star break.

“He still was able to contribute but not at his best. Extremities are hard to deal with. But, clearly, he was able to get it behind him, take the proper rest and he was very diligent on his rehab. We’re seeing the fruits of his patience.”

Molina caught all three games in this series and all four in the preceding San Francisco series. Shildt said that Matt Wieters, healing from a calf strain, isn’t quite ready.

EXTRA BASESThe Cardinals will have their last off day on the road in Denver on Monday before the start of a series on Tuesday. After three games against the sub.-500 Rockies, the Cardinals’ final 16 games will come against playoff aspirants Milwaukee (three), Washington (three), Arizona (three) and Chicago (seven).

Depending on Chicago’s game at San Diego on Monday, the Cardinals will have either a four-game lead or five-game lead in the National League Central Division when they play Tuesday.

“It’s not over,” Carpenter said, “but it’s nice to have a little cushion. We’ve got a chance to write our own destiny.”

• Shortstop Paul DeJong jokingly had been among the advocates for “burning” the blue uniforms worn for Saturday road games. The Cardinals had been 1-9 in them before winning Saturday, DeJong but said he hadn’t realized that Adam Wainwright, who broke the curse this weekend, hadn’t pitched any of those games.

“I thought he looked kind of funny in that uniform,” DeJong said.

• Not many big-league players are called “Tommy,” but Edman said that it was what he preferred, for now, anyway.

“Tommy is fine,” he said. “I don’t see myself as ‘Tom’ yet. Maybe when I’m a dad.”

• With their 81st win on Sunday, the Cardinals have clinched their 12th consecutive non-losing season.

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Rick Hummel is a Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.