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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Moving practice indoors along with a fan festival gave the St. Louis Rams a chance to build some enthusiasm. Gave the rookies a feel for the stadium, too.

Safety T.J. McDonald was a bit overwhelmed at first walking into the Edward Jones Dome in front of a crowd estimated at 15,000 before settling down to business Saturday for what essentially was another full-pad practice with little tackling.

"I kind of had to just step back for a little bit and like 'Wow!'" McDonald said. "It's a good feeling to see the Ram in the middle of the field."

The top attendance at the team facility so far is about 2,300, so the cheers were a lot louder even in a facility that holds about 67,000.

"Definitely more adrenaline going," McDonald said. "You want to hear the oohs and aahs in your favor, not because you gave something up."

McDonald never played indoors at USC, and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey's only dome experience at West Virginia was at Syracuse.

"It felt good walking down that tunnel for the first time," Austin said. "Even though it was a scrimmage I approach everything like it's a game and I made a couple plays, so it felt good."

It felt good afterward, too.

"I'm just glad that anybody wants my autograph right now," Austin said.

Quarterback Sam Bradford thought the kids handled the newness pretty well and came away believing the offense was even faster on the artificial surface.

"It was exciting to get down here and just change it up a little bit," Bradford said. "It's always fun to get out here in front of this many fans."

The biggest impact addition on offense could be rangy tight end Jared Cook, who made several nice catches. Like Austin, Cook also can line up in the backfield.

"I think you saw today my trust with Jared," Bradford. "I've got all the trust in the world that if I put the ball up there he's going to go get it."

At first blush, coach Jeff Fisher was pleased with everything in an injury-free workout capped by a scrimmage involving players down the depth chart to end "phase one" of training camp. Players have a day off Sunday before starting preparations for the preseason opener Thursday night at Cleveland.

"I think the goal for us is to just go out and execute," Bradford said. "It'll be our base stuff and it's important that we go out and execute the way we know we can."

Fisher was appreciative of the fan reception, while noting it also means they're anxious for the franchise to field their first winning team in a decade.

"I would make an assumption that the expectation level is much higher than it was," Fisher said. "That's a fair assumption. That's where we are, too."

Before the practice, the Rams held fan forums involving vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff and general manager Les Snead.

Kicker Greg Zuerlein had the distance on a pair of line-drive 64-yard field goal attempts with no rush that were wide left. He set a franchise record with a 60-yarder as a rookie last October.

Sunday, 04 August 2013 18:51
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CINCINNATI (AP) — Jake Westbrook's sinker took too much of a dive.

The right-hander had trouble with walks on Saturday night, helping the Cincinnati Reds break out of their week-long offensive funk with an 8-3 victory that evened their series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Devin Mesoraco drove in three runs with a pair of homers, and the Reds got only their fourth win in 11 games against their NL Central rival. Cincinnati had scored fewer than four runs in each of their last nine games head-to-head.

Westbrook (7-6) and the bullpen couldn't keep it going.

"I couldn't finish off innings," Westbrook said. "I'd get a couple of quick outs and I couldn't put them away. That was a subpar performance for me. I felt like I pitched better today than in my last start. I was making decent pitches."

Just not enough of them, especially with two outs. Westbrook gave up five runs in five innings, all with two outs. He walked five batters and three of them scored.

"He had one of the best sinkers he's had this year," manager Mike Matheny said. "It was really diving. Walks seemed to hurt him, especially after two outs, but overall, his stuff was better than his line showed.

"A lot of times, the ball was moving too much. He had a good one today."

The loss knocked second-place St. Louis back to 1½ games behind Pittsburgh. Cincinnati remained 5½ out.

It was a significant win for Cincinnati, which has lost six of its last eight games overall to stay mired in third place.

"It's pretty big," left-hander Tony Cingrani said. "We've been on a pretty rough stretch."

And not just against St. Louis. The defending NL Central champions are mired in third place because their offense has gone missing. Jack Hannahan singled home a pair of runs in the first inning, and the Reds were back in the swing.

Mesoraco hit a solo shot in the eighth off Michael Blazek for the first multihomer game of his career. Shin-Soo Choo followed with a two-run homer off Blazek.

Cingrani (5-1) and four relievers contained an offense that had scored 26 runs in the last two games, allowing four hits.

The Cardinals ended a seven-game losing streak by beating the Pirates 13-0 on Thursday, then came to Cincinnati and drubbed the Reds 13-3 on Friday night. It was the first time since 2003 that they scored 13 runs in back-to-back games.

They got off to a fast start against Cingrani, making his first career appearance against the Cardinals. Jon Jay opened the game with a walk and came around on Carlos Beltran's double. Cingrani bounced his next pitch, letting Beltran move to third, but that's all the Cardinals would manage as the left-hander escaped the 30-pitch inning down only 1-0.

Cingrani left after the Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth. Grounders by Rob Johnson and pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter drove in runs that cut it to 5-3.

Westbrook threw a five-hitter for a 10-0 win over Cincinnati on April 10. He lost his shutout right away this time. Westbrook gave up a hit and a pair of walks in the first, including an intentional walk to Jay Bruce that brought up Hannahan with the bases loaded and two outs. Hannahan, who was 0 for 4 career against Westbrook, lined a 2-2 pitch to center for a 2-1 lead.

It was the second game in a row that Westbrook had trouble in the opening inning. He gave up four runs in the first inning of a 9-2 loss in Pittsburgh on Monday.

Mesoraco's homer was only the fifth that Westbrook has allowed in his 16 starts this season.

Notes: Carpenter (0 for 20) and Reds 3B Todd Frazier (0 for 25) were out of the starting lineups. Carpenter got into the game as a pinch hitter. Frazier got in as part of a double switch. Neither got a hit. ... The Reds optioned RH reliever Curtis Partch to Triple-A Louisville a day after he struggled in the series opener. RH Pedro Villarreal was called up for the third time. ... RH Jonathan Broxton (elbow) threw 14 pitches in the bullpen without problem. He'll throw again on Sunday and could be activated off the DL next week. ... Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick threw a ceremonial pitch.

Saturday, 03 August 2013 22:05
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CINCINNATI (AP) — Before the opening game of their series against the rival St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker had an inkling how it would go.

"We were struggling on the road trip and they were struggling too, so something has to break here," Baker said.

It was the Cardinals who broke out on Friday night.

David Freese set the tone with a bases-loaded double in the first inning, and Daniel Descalso hit two of the Cardinals' three homers as St. Louis pulled away to a 13-3 victory that left the Reds stalled in the NL Central race.

The Cardinals have emerged from a deep hitting slump by scoring 13 runs in each of their last two games. It's the first time this season they've had double-digit run totals in consecutive games.

"These guys were cold coming in here and all of a sudden — Boom! — everybody looks hot," Baker said afterward.

The Reds? Still in their scoring rut.

Shelby Miller (11-7) limited Cincinnati's slumping offense to two singles over the first five innings before Joey Votto hit a three-run homer in the sixth. The Reds managed only six hits, five of them singles. They've been held to three or fewer runs in six of their last seven games.

In every respect, it was a night the Reds wanted to forget.

"This is a game that depends upon how short a memory you have," outfielder Jay Bruce said.

Bronson Arroyo (9-9) matched his season high by giving up seven runs in only 3 2-3 innings, his shortest outing of the season.

Freese also had a bases-loaded walk, giving him four RBIs. Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran each had three hits as St. Louis piled up 14 in all. The 13 runs were the most allowed by Cincinnati this season.

"It's usually feast or famine with these guys," Arroyo said. "With a lineup like that to give up four runs in the first inning, it's very difficult. They get momentum going and start to turn it up."

The Cardinals improved to 7-3 against the Reds this season, keeping the defending NL Central champions at arm's length. They moved to a half-game behind first-place Pittsburgh. Cincinnati stayed 5½ games back.

Both teams were coming off tough weeks set up by a lack of offense.

The Cardinals lost four of five in Pittsburgh and seven straight overall, allowing the Pirates to take over the top spot. St. Louis managed a total of only 10 runs during the seven-game losing streak, which ended with a 13-0 victory in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The Reds had trouble scoring runs on the West Coast while dropping five of their last six games there.

Which one would break out first in the weekend series?

The Cardinals. Emphatically.

They quickly got to Arroyo, who had trouble getting his pitches to go where he wanted. The Cardinals loaded the bases on a pair of hits and a walk with one out in the first, and Freese doubled off the wall in center for a 3-0 lead. Jon Jay followed with an RBI single on Arroyo's 24th pitch.

It never got much better for Arroyo, who has faced the Cardinals more than any other opponent in his career and had far more bad times than good. He fell to 8-16 in 37 career starts against St. Louis.

Curtis Partch relieved Arroyo in the fourth and walked the first three batters he faced, including Matt Holliday and Freese with the bases loaded. Jay's double made it 9-0.

Descalso hit a pair of solo shots for the first multihomer game of his career, and Craig had a two-run shot as St. Louis pulled away. The Cardinals hit only nine homers in July, including one after the All-Star break.

NOTES: Cardinals leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter went 0 for 6, extending his slump to 0 for 18. ... Reds 3B Todd Frazier went hitless for the seventh straight game. He's in an 0-for-24 slump, the worst of his career. ... RH reliever Jonathan Broxton is scheduled to make his second appearance of a rehab stint on Saturday. He's been on the DL since June 15 with a sore elbow. ... LH Tony Cingrani makes his first career start against the Cardinals on Saturday. Jake Westbrook goes for St. Louis. ... Sixteen couples were married on the field pregame by the man who wears the Gapper mascot costume.

Saturday, 03 August 2013 07:59
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(ST. LOUIS) – St. Louis Blues Vice President and General Manager Doug Armstrong announced today the club has signed defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to a five-year contract extension.

 Bouwmeester, 29, dressed in 14 games for the Blues last season tying for third on the club  in points (7) and plus/minus (+5) while he tied for first in assists (6) and ranked second in time on ice per game (23:24) during the month of April.  In addition, during the 2013 regular season Bouwmeester extended his iron man streak to 635 games.

During the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 6’4, 212-pound defenseman appeared in all six games for the Blues including his postseason debut. Overall, Bouwmeester ranked second on the team in ice time per game (25:08) while he tallied his first career playoff point (assist) in Game Four on May 6.

A former first round draft pick (3rd overall) of Florida in 2002, Bouwmeester has appeared in 11 seasons during his NHL career including stints with Florida, Calgary and St. Louis.  In 764 career games, he has recorded 307 points (72 goals, 235 assists) to go along with 469 penalty minutes.  In addition, Bouwmeester has been selected to two All-Star Games (2007, 2009) and earned first team All-Rookie Team honors in 2002-03.  Internationally, the Edmonton, Alberta native has represented Canada on nine occasions including three World Junior Championships, four World Championships and the 2006 Winter Olympics.  Bouwmeester has also been invited to Team Canada’s 2014 Olympic Orientation Camp in preparation for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.


 

Friday, 02 August 2013 13:00
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PITTSBURGH (AP) - Joe Kelly and the St. Louis Cardinals averted a five-game sweep at Pittsburgh, ending a season-worst seven-game losing streak by routing the Pirates 13-0 Thursday night in a matchup between the NL's top two teams.

St. Louis began the series with a 2½-game lead in the NL Central but left with the Pirates ahead by 1½ games. The Cardinals avoided their first sweep in a set of at least five games since 1916, when the New York Giants took all six games.

Pittsburgh had won the previous four games at PNC Park by a combined score of 36-10.

Kelly (2-3) pitched six scoreless innings and had two hits. Tony Cruz added three hits, including a two-run double during an eight-run seventh inning.

Kelly allowed three hits while walking four and striking out four. Seth Maness, Michael Blazek and Edward Mujica pitched one inning each to complete the five-hitter.

After the Cardinals failed to acquire a replacement for injured All-Star catcher Yadier Molina prior to Wednesday's non-waiver trading deadline, Cruz figures to get the majority of starts behind the plate. He had started just 11 games this season until Molina went on the disabled list Wednesday with a sprained right knee.

Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and David Freese also had two of St. Louis' 17 hits. Craig came into the game in a 1-for-27 slump, and he had a two-run double in the seventh.

Charlie Morton (3-3) struggled against the Cardinals again, giving up five runs and 10 hits in six innings. He is 2-8 in his career against St. Louis.

Morton threw a wild pitch that made it 1-0 in the second. St. Louis scored three times in the third as Jon Jay was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, Cruz grounded into a double play and Pete Kozma had an RBI single.

Beltran doubled in a run in the sixth before the Cardinals broke the game open an inning later.

NOTES: Starling Marte had two of Pittsburgh's five hits. He has a hit in all 12 career games against the Cardinals. ... Pittsburgh C Russell Martin sat out the game with a sore left knee. ... St. Louis opens a three-game series Friday night at Cincinnati with RHP Shelby Miller (10-7, 2.79) facing RHP Bronson Arroyo (9-8, 3.26). ... RHP Gerrit Cole (5-4, 3.56) will pitch for Pittsburgh on Friday night in the first game of the three-game series against Colorado's Jhoulys Chacin (9-5, 3.54).

Friday, 02 August 2013 08:03
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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.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013 23:21
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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."

Wednesday, 31 July 2013 23:17
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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.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013 23:03
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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.

Monday, 29 July 2013 23:04
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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.

Sunday, 28 July 2013 22:57
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