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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.

US WINS GOLD CUP

Sunday, 28 July 2013 22:55 Published in Sports

CHICAGO (AP) - Brek Shea sure knows how to make an entrance.

Just 42 seconds after coming into the game as a substitute Sunday, Shea pounced after Landon Donovan whiffed a shot and poked the ball into the net. His goal in the 69th minute gave the United States a 1-0 victory over Panama and the CONCACAF Gold Cup title. It is the fifth Gold Cup title for the Americans, but their first since 2007. It also is the first international title as a coach for Jurgen Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championship with Germany.

"It doesn't matter who scored today," Shea said. "We won."

The U.S. is doing a lot of that lately.

This was the 11th straight victory for the Americans, four more than their previous record, and they likely will leapfrog Mexico as the best team from the North and Central America and Caribbean region when the next FIFA rankings come out Aug. 8.

When the final whistle sounded, the Americans on the field began celebrating while the rest of the team raced off the bench. Several players jumped up and down, and hugs and high-fives were exchanged. Klinsmann, who watched the game from a luxury box after being suspended for his tirade over the officiating in the semifinal, quickly made his way down to the field, pumping his fists in the air as he walked.

"They wanted to send out a signal that they are the best group in CONCACAF, and they are," Klinsmann said. "For today."

But their performance in this tournament is likely to stay with the Americans for a while. At least until the next round of World Cup qualifying in September. Not only did they outscore opponents 20-4 in the tournament - no other team had more than 11 goals - but they showed they are deeper than they've ever been, with one young player after another stepping up.

And one veteran, too.

Despite his big whiff, Donovan was selected the tournament MVP. He finished with five goals and seven assists, a particularly impressive performance considering it followed a four-month sabbatical over the winter that cost him his place on the national team.

"In terms of just having fun, it's up there," Donovan said. "I'm just enjoying being part of it, I really am."

Though Klinsmann picks his roster based on form, not reputation, he acknowledged it would be almost impossible to leave Donovan off the roster for the next round of qualifying.

"He deserves every compliment for this tournament," Klinsmann said.

The only disappointment for the Americans was the loss of Stuart Holden with another right knee injury. Holden sprained his knee early in the first half, and while he will have further tests, Klinsmann said after the game that "it's not looking good."

"We are very, very sad for him," Klinsmann said. "We are very concerned about Stuey's situation. It looks like a very serious knee injury."

While most expected a Mexico-US final, Panama had other ideas, upsetting El Tri twice on the strength of its stingy defense. Panama was just as dogged against the Americans early, crowding Donovan and Eddie Johnson and not giving the U.S. any space.

But rather than taking wild shots or trying to force things, the Americans stayed patient.

"At times it may have been a little slow or been going back and forth, but we stuck to the game plan," Besler said.

And as the game went on, the Americans began to break Panama down. They finished with three shots on goal and another eight that were off target - six in the second half alone. Their best chance came in the 56th minute, DaMarcus Beasley chipped a ball into Donovan, who was in front of the goal at the near post. Donovan got his head on the ball, but not at the angle he wanted and it flew wide of the net. As the crowd groaned, Donovan threw back his head and Beasley swatted the red flag in the corner.

"We were all hopeful, we all wanted to win," Panama coach Julio Dely Valdez said. "But we all go away feeling we gave it our all. I said I wanted to walk away from the Gold Cup feeling good, and I do."

Shea replaced Joe Corona in the 68th minute, just as the Americans were pressing forward again. Alejandro Bedoya got the ball on his left foot and crossed to Donovan, who took a mighty swing - and missed. But it was enough to throw goalkeeper Jaime Pendeo off, and when the ball rolled past Panama's Roberto Chen and on toward the net, Shea was ready. Parked inches from the goal line, Shea stuck out his left foot and tapped the ball into the net for his second international goal.

"I was there just to put it away," he said.

Asked if it was the quickest goal he'd ever had or the closest, Shea replied, "Easiest."

The Americans had a chance to double the lead in the 84th minute when Shea fed a wide-open Eddie Johnson 2 yards from the goal. But Johnson couldn't finish it, sending the ball flying over the cross bar.

But it didn't matter as Panama never threatened.

"I think they were rewarded today for the fantastic Gold Cup they played," Klinsmann said. "They put all their energy in that they had. They should be very, very proud of themselves."

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