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Pirates edge Cardinals 5-3, take 2-1 lead in NLDS

Sunday, 06 October 2013 19:52 Published in Sports

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pedro Alvarez and the Pirates kept that Jolly Roger flapping high above Pittsburgh.

Alvarez hit a tiebreaking single in the eighth inning and the Pirates beat the St. Louis Cardinals 5-3 on Sunday to take a 2-1 lead in best-of-five NL division series.

Alvarez pulled a grounder into right field that scored pinch-runner Josh Harrison from second base. Russell Martin followed with a sharp RBI single against reliever Kevin Siegrist, who took over after Carlos Martinez (0-1) faltered.

The go-ahead single was the latest big hit by Alvarez. He homered in the first two games of the series and is 4 for 10 with four RBIs.

Alvarez also kept the Pirates' famous flag flying high in October. "Raise the Jolly Roger!" is the rallying cry for this wild-card team, now one victory from its first postseason series win since the 1979 World Series.

Mark Melancon (1-0) picked up the win despite allowing Carlos Beltran's tying home run in the top of the eighth. Jason Grilli worked the ninth for a save.

Charlie Morton is set to start for the Pirates in Game 4 on Monday against rookie Michael Wacha.

Beltran finished 2 for 3 with three RBIs. His 16th postseason home run moved him past Babe Ruth for eighth place in postseason history.

Beltran's shot temporarily silenced a rocking crowd at PNC Park. It also set the stage for another dramatic win by the Pirates.

Andrew McCutchen led off the eighth with his second hit, a double to left. But the NL MVP candidate unwisely tried to advance on Justin Morneau's grounder to shortstop and was an easy out at third.

Harrison ran for Morneau and moved up when Marlon Byrd walked. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny turned to the lefty Siegrist to face the left-handed Alvarez. The Pittsburgh slugger tied for the NL lead with 36 homers in the regular season, but hit just .180 against lefties.

Alvarez responded with his single between first and second. Martin then tried to drop down a squeeze bunt to score Byrd from third - he fouled it off, then lined a hit to left that gave Grilli more than enough cushion.

Martin's sacrifice fly off reliever Seth Maness in the sixth gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead and turned the game over to Pittsburgh's "Shark Tank" bullpen, one of the keys to the franchise's first winning season and playoff berth in 21 years.

Tony Watson worked around a one-out single in the seventh before giving way to Melancon in the eighth.

Melancon stepped in capably for a while when Grilli, the All-Star closer, went down with a strained right forearm in July. But Melancon struggled down the stretch and his fourth blown save in the last three weeks came courtesy of Beltran, who knows a thing or two about delivering this time of year.

Pirates starter Francisco Liriano dominated the Cardinals during the regular season, going 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA in his three starts against the NL's highest-scoring team. He was electric in Pittsburgh's wild-card win over Cincinnati last Tuesday, shaking off a sinus infection and baffling the Reds with a series of changeups and sliders that ended Cincinnati's season and manager Dusty Baker's tenure.

The sharpness that fueled Liriano's career-reviving year abandoned him after his first trip through the St. Louis lineup. He narrowly escaped the third inning when Matt Holliday lined to right with the bases loaded.

Liriano wasn't quite as fortunate in the fifth. Jon Jay led off with a single and Pete Kozma followed with a walk. After Joe Kelly struck out trying to bunt, a double steal set up Beltran's two-run single.

At 2-all, the Cardinals had matched their entire output against Liriano in their previous 28 innings.

Liriano was matched nearly pitch for pitch by the unflappable Kelly. The 25-year-old right-hander has been rock steady all season, even as he moved from middle reliever to starter in July.

Kelly welcomed the hostile environment, calling the sea of black-clad fans that awaited him one of the things a kid dreams about.

The reality proved a little more unnerving, at least early.

Nibbling at the corners, Kelly walked McCutchen with two outs in the first and Morneau followed with a line drive that smacked off the pitcher's leg and rolled weakly behind the mound. Kozma's rushed throw from shortstop skipped into the stands, putting runners in scoring position for Byrd.

The well-traveled outfielder - who played in 1,250 regular- season games before reaching the playoffs for the first time - has been a welcome jolt both in the lineup and in the clubhouse for the Pirates. He delivered again, hitting a two-run single that put the Pirates ahead.

---

NOTES: Grilli worked around a leadoff single in the ninth.

No. 1 Bama leads unchanged top 5 in AP poll, Mizzou 25

Sunday, 06 October 2013 17:04 Published in Sports

NEW YORK (AP) -- For the fourth straight week, the top five teams in The Associated Press college football poll are unchanged, led by No. 1 Alabama.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide received 55 of 60 first-place votes after an easy victory and No. 2 Oregon received the other five after its latest blowout. Clemson is No. 3, followed by Ohio State and Stanford.

The Buckeyes and Cardinal were both tested Saturday night and stayed unbeaten. Ohio State rallied to win at Northwestern, 40-30. The Wildcats slipped three spots to No. 19. Stanford held off Washington 31-28. The Huskies dropped only one spot to No. 16.

No. 23 Northern Illinois, No. 24 Virginia Tech and No. 25 Missouri moved into the rankings for the first time this season. Arizona State, Mississippi and Maryland dropped out.

Rams end slump, beat winless Jaguars 34-20

Sunday, 06 October 2013 16:58 Published in Sports

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Rams had 10 days to mull over a dispiriting blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the third straight time they were so far behind there was no coming back.

Sure, it was winless Jacksonville on the other side of the ball.

At this point, it didn't matter.

"It just takes a snowflake to start an avalanche," said safety Matt Giordano.

His 82-yard interception return for a touchdown was one of several big plays from the defense in a 34-20 victory over the Jaguars on Sunday that ended a three-game losing streak.

"We needed to get a spark and I'm thankful that I'm the one to spark it off," he said.

Sam Bradford threw three touchdown passes, two of them to Austin Pettis, with no interceptions. Bradford was sacked just once after the 49ers and Cowboys combined for 11 the previous two games.

The running game finally clicked with rookie Zac Stacy rushing for 78 yards on 14 carries in his first start.

"It never gets old getting into the end zone," Pettis said. "We played a pretty complete game, and we got a win."

The matchup met NFL qualifications for a sellout, but attendance of 54,266 was about 12,000 shy of capacity.

Pettis' 31-yard TD catch with 5:45 to go put the Rams (2-3) up by two scores. St. Louis, which had trailed by double digits in every game, established control with a 17-point second quarter after Jacksonville (0-5) had a pair of early leads.

Jaguars rookie left tackle Luke Joeckel was carted off with a broken right ankle in the first quarter and is out for the season. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert injured his left hamstring in the third quarter and didn't return.

"He had a lot of up-side and was getting better each and every game," coach Gus Bradley said of Joeckel. "It's sad to see him go down like that."

The NFL's lowest-scoring team had to settle for its best offensive day of the season. Justin Blackmon had a big debut, Maurice Jones-Drew topped 10,000 total yards for his career and Gabbert threw his first TD pass of the year.

Bradley said Gabbert is still the starter next week at Denver if he's healthy.

"That's a glimpse of what we can do," Blackmon said. "We've got playmakers here. We know it. We've just got to go out there and finish games."

Blackmon caught his first pass of the year for a 67-yard score after serving a four-game suspension. He had five receptions for 136 yards.

Cecil Shorts III caught a 4-yarder from Chad Henne early in the fourth that cut the gap to a touchdown.

Pettis got away from Will Blackmon on the clinching score to cap an 80-yard drive. His 4-yard TD catch at the end of the first half finished a 12-play, 90-yard march to make it 24-10.

Chris Stewart set up a touchdown with a forced fumble and fumble recovery in the second quarter. James Laurinaitis intercepted Gabbert in the end zone in the third quarter to keep the Rams up by 14.

Joeckel was hurt when a Rams lineman rolled under him on a run. Joeckel was the second pick in this year's draft and started at left tackle after Eugene Monroe was traded to Baltimore for multiple draft picks.

Robert Quinn helped set up Giordano's interception when he got a piece of Gabbert on the pass rush. Gabbert stepped up but overthrew Blackmon, and Giordano threaded his way across the field to tie it at 7 late in the first quarter.

Gabbert was 2-0 at the Edward Jones Dome in college, helping Missouri beat Illinois twice in his hometown. He's 5-22 as the Jaguars' starter.

In a span of four plays early in the second quarter, the Rams tied it on a short field goal by Greg Zuerlein and capitalized on a turnover to take their first lead. Darian Stewart stripped Clay Harbor after a short reception and returned the fumble 19 yards to the Jacksonville 16, and Lance Kendricks stretched for the pylon on the next snap.

The Jaguars totaled eight points in the first half all season before busting out with 10 in the first quarter. Blackmon's TD was their longest play of the year.

Jones-Drew had 70 yards on 17 carries and is the third Jaguars player to top 10,000 yards.

Notes: The Jaguars' Sen'Derrrick Marks got his first sack of the year plus a pass deflection in the first quarter. ... Jacksonville's last TD in the first quarter was a 5-yard reception by Jordan Shipley from Chad Henne against Tennessee in the 2012 finale. ... Giordano has two career interception returns for touchdowns, also doing it for the Colts in 2007.

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