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CARDINALS LOSING STREAK REACHES 7

Wednesday, 31 July 2013 23:21 Published in Sports

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington spent the hours leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline searching for a way to upgrade the team with the best record in baseball.

The typically buttoned down Huntington even considered taking leave of his senses to do it.

"We talk a lot about, we don't want to do something stupid," Huntington said Wednesday after the deadline passed. "We were willing to do something stupid. We just didn't want to do anything insane."

At the moment, insanity might be defined as breaking up the chemistry the Pirates have spent the last four months cultivating.

Russell Martin drove home Neal Walker with the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and the Pirates rallied past the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4 to extend their lead in the NL Central to 2½ games.

Martin's sharp grounder off Trevor Rosenthal (1-2) rolled into left field, giving Walker time to score from second and propel Pittsburgh to its 25th comeback win in an increasingly special season. Pittsburgh is 23 games over .500 for the first time since 1992.

"We can win just about every way possible," manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Cardinals appeared in firm control of the division race two weeks ago but now find themselves staring up at the Pirates, who have taken the first four games of a five-game series.

St. Louis broke out of a slump to put together 13 hits, but the Cardinals left 11 runners on base and dropped their seventh straight. The Cardinals led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 but couldn't hold on.

"You always at some point during the season, every year, no matter what, go through a rough patch," St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright said after failing to earn his 14th victory. "The good teams find a way to get out of that rough patch and find a way to get back to playing good quality baseball, and that's what we're going to do."

Tony Watson (3-1) worked two shutout innings in relief of starter Jeff Locke. Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth for his fifth save. Melancon is 3 for 3 in save opportunities since All-Star closer Jason Grilli went down with a right forearm injury last week.

Matt Holliday had three hits and drove in two runs but St. Louis failed to score over the final five innings against Pittsburgh's bullpen.

"There's something we're not doing, and we know we're not doing it and fixing it," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

Walker hit his seventh homer of the season off Wainwright in the first inning, starting a pattern that repeated itself throughout the night. The Cardinals found ways to score off starter Jeff Locke, but Pittsburgh kept chipping away.

"It's things we've done throughout the course of the season," Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "If we're down early, we just keep working."

The teams with the two best records in the National League were mostly spectators before Wednesday's non-waiver trade deadline, though the Pirates acquired minor leaguer Robert Andino from Seattle.

The past two seasons, the Pirates made somewhat aggressive moves meant to bolster their playoff chances, but instead contributed in part to a second-half swoon.

This time, Huntington is keeping the group he called "one of the tightest" he's been around intact. When the 4 p.m. deadline passed, the Pirates were huddled around a TV in the clubhouse. They weren't anxiously waiting for news. Instead, they were watching Martin and first baseman Garrett Jones play video games.

"The trade deadline is like a gossip magazine," Watson said. "You take it for what it's worth but it's in one ear and out the other."

Pittsburgh needed to find a way after a rare off-night by Locke, whose rapid ascension from fifth starter to All-Star has fueled Pittsburgh's relentless pursuit of the Cardinals. But St. Louis spent four innings pecking away at the left-hander's usually deft mix of breaking balls.

The Cardinals came in hitting just .155 (30-194) during their late-July swoon but peppered Locke for 10 hits, the most he has given up in 31 career starts.

They came in various ways, from a hard-hit double by Beltran in the fourth to a swinging bunt by David Descalso that traveled 20 feet. Locke tied a season high by giving up four runs. He struck out six and walked one as his ERA rose from 2.15 to 2.36.

"He was fighting uphill all night," Hurdle said.

Wainwright, however, couldn't take advantage of the first signs of life by the St. Louis offense in a week. Every time the Cardinals would push in front, the Pirates would respond, eventually tying it on a sacrifice fly by McCutchen in the fifth. Wainwright left after seven innings, allowing four runs on eight hits, striking out six and walking one.

"(They) gave me the lead three times and I blew the save three times," Wainwright said. "I can be better than that, I will be better than that."

NOTES: The Pirates placed reserve C Mike McKenry on the 15-day disabled after he underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Rookie Tony Sanchez, Pittsburgh's top pick in the 2009 draft, will serve as the primary backup to Martin for the rest of the season ... The series concludes Thursday with Pittsburgh's Charlie Morton (3-2, 3.59 ERA) facing Joe Kelly (1-3 3.44). The Pirates are 5-1 in Morton's last six starts.

MLB THREATENING AROD WITH A LIFETIME BAN

Wednesday, 31 July 2013 23:17 Published in Sports

NEW YORK (AP) - Major League Baseball is threatening to kick Alex Rodriguez out of the game for life unless the New York Yankees star agrees not to fight a lengthy suspension for his role in the sport's latest drug scandal, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

Whether Commissioner Bud Selig would actually issue a lifetime suspension was unclear and a permanent ban could be shortened by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz to about 200 games, the person said.

The number of players likely to be disciplined stood at 14 Wednesday.

Front and center is Rodriguez, baseball's highest-paid player and the most prominent one linked in media reports over the past seven months to Biogenesis of America, a closed Florida anti-aging clinic that allegedly distributed banned performance-enhancing drugs.

The Yankees expected Rodriguez to be accused of recruiting other athletes for the clinic, attempting to obstruct MLB's investigation, and not being truthful with MLB in the past. Baseball has considered suspending him for violations of its labor contract and drug agreement.

Even if he is banned from baseball, there is precedent for a shortened penalty: When pitcher Steve Howe was given a lifetime ban in 1992 in his seventh suspension for drug or alcohol use, an arbitrator reduced the penalty to 119 days.

A three-time MVP, Rodriguez acknowledged four years ago that he used performance-enhancing substances while with Texas from 2001-03 but repeatedly has denied using them since.

He's been sidelined all season since hip surgery in January and then a quadriceps strain during a minor league rehabilitation assignment in July. The Yankees say he'll start another rehab Friday - Double-A Trenton appeared to be the likely destination.

"Hopefully Alex will be back shortly thereafter," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

Rodriguez didn't stop to talk with reporters after his workout Wednesday at the team's minor league complex in Tampa, Fla.

At first, MLB and the union thought talks on the Biogenesis probe could be completed by Friday, but negotiations to avoid grievances are likely to push back announcements until at least Saturday or Sunday.

Others accused in media reports of receiving performance-enhancing drugs from Biogenesis include a trio of 2013 All-Stars: Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz, San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera and Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

Most of the players face 50-game bans as first offenders. Both sides felt urgency to complete the process because by the middle of next week, teams will have fewer than 50 games left. And that would force players to complete suspensions during the playoffs or at the start of next season.

Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski protected against a possible suspension of Peralta by acquiring slick-fielding infielder Jose Iglesias from Boston in a three-team trade Tuesday night.

"If it were a 15-day thing, like a typical injury, I think we could have comfortably dealt with it with the players we already have," Dombrowski said Wednesday. "But when you start to talk about 50 days and a possible playoff run, we feel better going ahead with Jose."

While MLB told the union which players it intends to suspend, it hasn't issued formal notices of discipline. Because of that, the countdown hasn't started under baseball's Joint Drug Agreement, which says the suspensions are effective on the third business day after the notice is issued.

The sides also haven't decided whether suspensions for first-time offenders who challenge the penalty can be announced before an arbitration decision.

If some stars knew their seasons were about to be cut short, they weren't letting on Wednesday, at least publicly.

"I can't talk about nothing right now. Just wait for the news," Cabrera said Wednesday before playing against Cincinnati.

Peralta thinks he shouldn't be on the list of players linked to Biogenesis.

"It's wrong," he said. "But whatever happens, I need to fight and try to move on."

Toronto outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal were all suspended for 50 games last year for positive tests for elevated testosterone. MLB informed the union they won't receive additional discipline for that violation, two people familiar with the probe said. They also spoke on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

"Nothing's been told to me," Melky Cabrera said. "I served my suspension last year, but MLB has never told me that it's OK now. I'm seeing it in the press, but I don't know."

Texas was unable to find a replacement bat to fill a void a suspension of Cruz would create.

"I don't think anybody's comfortable losing a significant part of your club, but it's out of our control," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We explored some deal like that. They just didn't come to a head. It wasn't for lack of interest or lack of effort. It was more lack of supply and lack of fit, really."

PIRATES SWEEP CARDS IN DOUBLEHEADER

Tuesday, 30 July 2013 23:03 Published in Sports

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Andrew McCutchen clubbed his 15th homer of the season and the Pittsburgh Pirates completed a doubleheader sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals with 6-0 victory on Tuesday night.

Brandon Cumpton (1-1) allowed three hits over seven innings to pick up his first major league win. The sweep propelled the Pirates into first place in the NL Central. Pittsburgh is a season-high 22 games over .500 (64-42).

Tyler Lyons (2-4) gave up four runs, three earned, in six innings. The rookie struck out five and walked one but received no help from a reeling offense. The Cardinals have dropped six straight and have scored five runs in their last 56 innings.

St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina left in the fourth inning with a right knee strain.

The Pirates took the opener 2-1 in 11 innings when Alex Presley's sharp grounder deflected off the glove of pitcher Kevin Siegrist and rolled into shallow left field, allowing Pittsburgh's Russell Martin to score from second.

The fortuitous bounces kept coming a couple hours later. The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the second when a rare passed ball by Molina let Jose Tabata sprint across the plate. Molina was done for the night in the top of the fourth when the right knee pain he's been battling for the better part of a month flared up again. He was replaced by Rob Johnson.

The absence of their leader further weakened the Cardinals, and things quickly fell apart.

While Cumpton kept the NL's top offense in check, Pittsburgh poured it on with a little help from St. Louis left fielder Matt Holliday. The Pirates took a 2-0 lead on Jordy Mercer's RBI single before McCutchen stepped in. He drilled Lyons' pitch deep to left but Holliday appeared ready to track it down at the wall. Instead, the ball caromed into the stands.

Lyons placed both hands on his head in shock while the packed bleachers let Holliday have it. Holliday's night didn't get any better an inning later when he overran Josh Harrison's flyball to the wall, allowing Harrison to make it all the way to third.

Harrison never made it home, but by then Cumpton had all the backing he would require.

The rookie, who made a couple of spot starts earlier this season, needed just 87 pitches to get 21 outs. He received a loud ovation as he headed to the dugout, the latest in a series of unheralded Pirates pitchers to rise from obscurity and help propel the franchise into the midst of a pennant race.

The staff takes its cue from ace A.J. Burnett, who worked seven emotional innings in the opener. Burnett struck out nine and walked three while allowing one run on three hits. He was long gone, however, by the time Presley stepped in with Martin on in the 11th.

"It's a battle, it's fun," Burnett said. "Let's roll from here. Let's keep going."

NOTES: The series continues on Thursday. Adam Wainright (13-6, 2.51 ERA) starts for the Cardinals against Jeff Locke (9-3, 2.15) ... St. Louis sent struggling reliever Marc Rzepczynski to Cleveland on Tuesday in exchange for minor league infielder Juan Herrera. Rzepczynski had a 7.84 ERA in 10 1-3 innings this season with the Cardinals ... Pirates 2009 first-round pick Tony Sanchez went 0 for 3 with an RBI in his first major league start at catcher.

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