Pirates take over first place in NL Central
There haven't been many days better than Saturday for the Pittsburgh Pirates over the last 20 years.
The Pirates took over sole possession of first place in the National League Central by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 7-1 as A.J. Burnett pitched seven strong innings, Russell Martin hit a three-run home run and Neil Walker had three hits.
Pittsburgh, which hasn't been to the postseason or had a winning record since 1992, pulled one game ahead of the Cardinals in the division race. A raucous season-high crowd of 39,514 was on hand at PNC Park on a night that also featured postgame fireworks and a concert.
Before the game, the Pirates made a significant addition to their lineup by acquiring first baseman Justin Morneau from the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named. The Pirates, noted for their low-budget ways, even took on all of the $2.2 million remaining on Morneau's contract.
"It's one good day, but we know we've got another game tomorrow," Martin said. "We'll take this one and prepare for the next one. We got a new player who is really good and we beat a tough team, so it definitely feels good."
Morneau was with the Twins in Texas and did not arrive at the ballpark until the third inning. He was in the dugout by the beginning of the sixth inning, exchanging handshakes and hugs with new teammates while the Pirates were already well on their way to their second victory in the three-game series that concludes Sunday afternoon.
Morneau, who was the 2006 American League MVP, is expected to make his debut Sunday.
"He brings a lot to this team," Burnett said. "I faced him a lot in the American League. He's a pro. He plays the game the right way and he can swing it a little bit."
The win clinched the season series for the Pirates, who lead 10-5. That means Pittsburgh would host the Cardinals in a one-game playoff Sept. 30 if they finish tied for the NL Central title.
Burnett (7-9) allowed only one run and four hits while lowering his earned run average to 3.09 in 25 starts. Burnett also had six strikeouts and one walk.
Jose Tabata and Marlon Byrd added two hits apiece as Pittsburgh had a total of 13.
Lance Lynn (13-9) was hammered for seven runs and 10 hits in four innings while walking three and striking out four. He has a 7.66 ERA in his last four starts.
"I've got to do better than I did tonight," Lynn said. "It was unacceptable. I didn't get the job done. I've got to make better pitches in big situations and not let the big innings happen. I've just got to get better and I will."
Allen Craig had two of St. Louis' six hits as the Cardinals have managed only one run in their last three games.
"We've had a few balls hit hard but not a lot," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "I like what our offense has done over the majority of the season. You don't want to take a couple of games and start making conclusions. We're just going to keep going about it."
The Pirates opened the scoring with two runs in the second inning as Burnett and Tabata hit consecutive RBI singles with two outs.
The Cardinals cut the gap to 2-1 in the third on Carlos Beltran's run-scoring single with two outs, but Pittsburgh answered with five runs in the bottom of the inning.
Pedro Alvarez led off with a double and scored on Byrd's single. Following a walk to Garrett Jones, Martin hit his three-run homer, his 13th of the season, to put the Pirates ahead 6-1. Two outs later, Tabata singled and scored on Walker's triple to make it 7-1.
The win was the Pirates' 79th of the season. They need just three more wins to end their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons, a modern North American professional team sports record.
"We're not worried about playing .500, we're worried about getting to October," Burnett said. "We've got a room full of guys that are all in. We'll celebrate when we make it to October."
NOTES: The Pirates will recall LHP Kris Johnson (0-1, 3.00) from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to Sunday's game and he will make his first major-league start, facing St. Louis RHP Joe Kelly (6-3, 2.91). ... Cardinals RHP Jake Westbrook (strained lower back) reported no pain Saturday, a day after throwing his second bullpen session of the week, and said he is hopeful of coming off the disabled list on Sept. 7, the first day he is eligible. ... RHP John Axford pitched one perfect relief inning in his Cardinals' debut, one day after being acquired from Milwaukee in a trade. ... Pirates RHP Jason Grilli (strained right forearm) pitched one scoreless inning Saturday in his first rehab game with Double-A Altoona on Saturday. ... Pittsburgh recalled RHP Stolmy Pimentel from Indianapolis and optioned RHP Jared Hughes and OF Andrew Lambo to Altoona.
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