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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.

PIRATES CRUSH CARDS 9-2

Monday, 29 July 2013 23:04 Published in Sports

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Clint Hurdle grabbed the brim of his cap and ducked his head. When pressed about what pleased him the most about Pittsburgh's 9-2 win over St. Louis on Monday, a romp that propelled the resilient Pirates within a half-game of the NL Central lead, the manager thought for a moment and sighed.

"Getting a little picky aren't we?" he asked with a smile.

Hurdle isn't. Neither is his team as it tries to shrug off two decades of misery and mediocrity.

Francisco Liriano allowed one run over seven dominant innings, Pedro Alvarez hit his NL-leading 27th home run and the Pirates kicked off a pivotal series by sending the Cardinals to their season-high fourth straight loss.

Liriano (11-4) continued his midcareer renaissance by striking out eight and walking just two to win his fifth consecutive start.

"It's been a good run for him being able to watch, and that's pretty much what I've been doing," Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "I don't get a lot of action when he's on the mound. It makes it a lot easier for the defense."

Having some help from an underachieving offense helps. The Pirates came in hitting just .221 with runners in scoring position, the worst mark in baseball. Clint Barmes smacked two doubles and drove in two runs and McCutchen added two hits as Pittsburgh went 5 for 13 with runners on second or third to continue its mastery over St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook.

The veteran right-hander fell to 1-8 against Pittsburgh in his otherwise solid resume. The Pirates touched Westbrook (7-5) for four runs in the first inning, capped by Alvarez's three-run homer into the first row of seats in right field.

"It was a battle from pitch 1 -- and it showed early on," Westbrook said. "It's not really how you draw it up with a walk and a hit batsmen and a single and a homer. Put us in a bad spot against a good team and against a guy who's throwing the ball really well."

Hurdle stressed the need to not place too much focus on a late-July series, pointing out two more months remain after the five-game set wraps up on Thursday.

Maybe, but with the Pirates chasing their first playoff berth in 21 years and a chance to make inroads on the team with the best record in baseball, the game had an electricity typically reserved for early fall in cities far away from the one that hasn't fielded a winner since 1992.

Lower-lever tickets were fetching $100 or more hours before the first pitch, and Liriano did not disappoint the largest Monday-night crowd (32,084) since the park opened.

The left-hander, whose path to stardom veered off track after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007, had little trouble with the most explosive offense in the majors. He retired the first 10 batters he faced and kept the best-hitting team in the National League on its heels while dropping his ERA to 2.16.

"Frankie can answer," Hurdle said. "He's been in big matchups before."

So has Westbrook, who still hasn't figured out a way to handle the Pirates. He was touched for four runs in the first inning of his previous start at PNC Park in April. The game was eventually washed out.

The weather couldn't save him this time. Neither could Westbrook's usually solid control. He issued three walks and hit three batters and never appeared comfortable.

"He's going to go out there and give us whatever he's got every time and for whatever reason this team's just given him a tough time and he's had a hard time in this stadium," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.

Westbrook survived a bases-loaded jam in the second to stay close, but by then Liriano had all the support he would need. His only real mistake came in the sixth, when pinch-hitter Tony Cruz led off with a triple and scored on Carpenter's single up the middle. A strikeout and a double play followed, and the Pirates broke it open in the seventh against relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Fernando Salas.

Garrett Jones started it with Pittsburgh's first sacrifice fly to the outfield since May 27 and Barmes clubbed a two-run double as the Pirates batted around.

Even with its best offensive showing since the All-Star break, Hurdle isn't so sure the Pirates made a statement.

"We're a confident team," he said. "I think we're a team whose confidence isn't built on its last game. It's not shattered by a losing streak. You continue to push through and that's what we've done from Opening Day until now."

NOTES: Pirates LF Starling Marte did not start after getting a planned day off in favor of Alex Presley, recalled from Triple-A on Monday after C Mike McKenry went onto the disabled list with a sprained knee. Marte entered in the seventh as a pinch hitter and singled. He is hitting just .131 (5 for 38) since July 20 ... The series continues with a doubleheader Tuesday. A.J. Burnett (4-7, 2.96 ERA) faces Lance Lynn (12-5, 3.98 ERA) in the opener with the Cardinals' Tyler Lyons (2-3, 5.51) starting the second game. The Pirates will not name a starter for the second game until Tuesday morning. ... Lynn was originally supposed to start the second game, but Matheny moved him into the matchup against Burnett because he wanted a more experienced pitcher to take on  the pirates ace.

BRAVES SWEEP CARDS

Sunday, 28 July 2013 22:57 Published in Sports

ATLANTA (AP) - Jason Heyward homered and drove in two runs to help the Atlanta Braves beat St. Louis 5-2 on Sunday night, capping their first three-game sweep of the Cardinals at home in 10 years.

The Braves broke a 2-all tie with two runs in the sixth inning off rookie Shelby Miller (10-7) and two relievers. Pinch-hitter Joey Terdoslavich drove in Chris Johnson with the go-ahead run. Heyward added another run-scoring single.

Heyward has nine homers this season, including two in the series between NL division leaders.

Kris Medlen (7-10) allowed two runs on eight hits and a walk in six innings to snap his three-game losing streak.

Miller allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits and two walks in 5 2-3 innings.

The Braves finished their first three-game sweep of the Cardinals at Turner Field since April 22-24, 2003.

Atlanta relievers Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel combined for three scoreless innings. Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth to take the NL lead with his 31st save.

The Cardinals, who lead the NL in batting average and runs, were held to three runs in the series.

Johnson singled with two outs in the second, moved to third when the ball bounced past Carlos Beltran in right field for an error, and scored on a single by Andrelton Simmons. Heyward's line-drive homer to the front row in right field pushed the lead to 2-0 in the third.

Heyward hit leadoff for the second straight night.

The Cardinals pulled even with two runs in the fifth. Back-to-back doubles by Pete Kozma and Miller produced the first run.

With two outs, Beltran hit a fly ball to left field that fell between Evan Gattis and Simmons, who sprinted into the outfield from his shortstop position. Gattis, a natural catcher, was playing deep for the power-hitting Beltran and was slow to break on the ball.

The Braves' two-run sixth began with two outs. Johnson, who entered the night tied with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for the NL lead with a .332 batting average, singled for his second hit and moved to third on Simmons' second single. Terdoslavich and Heyward followed with run-scoring hits.

Johnson added his third hit, a double, off Fernando Salas in the eighth to push his average to .338. Johnson scored on an infield hit by Reed Johnson and a throwing error by Kozma from shortstop.

Reed Johnson pulled up with an apparent injury after running to first and was replaced by pinch-runner Jose Constanza.

The Braves made two strong defensive plays. Simmons went to his right, falling to his knees, to snag a grounder by David Freese before throwing to second to start a double play in the second. Freddie Freeman leaned over the railing in front of the Atlanta dugout to catch a foul popup by Matt Holliday to end the eighth.

NOTES: Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said the team is "not close to doing anything" before Wednesday's trade deadline. Mozeliak said he is reluctant to trade prospects "for short-term gain." ... The Cardinals were swept in a road series for the first time this season. ... Molina had two hits, leaving his average at .334. ... The Braves' last three-game sweep of the Cardinals was May 11-13, 2012, at St. Louis. ... Braves RHP Brandon Beachy, returning from Tommy John surgery, will make his first start of the season Monday night when he faces Colorado's Jorge De La Rosa. The Cardinals open an important NL Central series at Pittsburgh when Jake Westbrook faces Francisco Liriano.

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