Cardinals seek series victory over Pirates with Wacha on the mound

The walk-off kings of baseball were back at it Saturday, again victimizing the team they’ve left standing on the field 10 times in the last five years.

Kolten Wong‘s leadoff homer in the ninth inning gave the St. Louis Cardinals a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1,000th game at Busch Stadium III. It also gives St. Louis a chance to take three out of four in the weekend series, which ends Sunday with Michael Wacha (6-1, 2.71 ERA) opposing rookie Nick Kingham (2-1, 3.75).

Wong has been responsible for three of those walkoffs, cracking solo shots in July 2014 and May 2015 before drilling a 1-1 offering from Richard Rodriguez into the front row of the right field bleachers for his fourth homer of the year.

It was a highlight in a season full of strikeouts and groundouts to second base for Wong, who batted a career-high .285 last year and is hitting .179 in 51 games.

“People know this year has been a damn struggle for me,” Wong said to Fox Sports Midwest after Saturday’s game. “It’s just nice to be able to come through for the team.”

It was the Cardinals’ seventh walk-off victory in 56 games, two more than any other big league team. It was also their second walk off of the series against Pittsburgh and their fifth walk-off homer against the Pirates since 2014.

The result also allowed St. Louis (31-25) to stay within 4 1/2 games of first place Milwaukee in the National League Central. What’s more, a win Sunday could position it nicely to make a run in the next week and a half.

After Sunday, St. Louis’ next nine games are against three of the worst teams in baseball. It hosts Miami from Tuesday through Thursday, and spends next weekend in Cincinnati. The Cardinals have beaten the Reds seven out of seven this year. They then come back home June 11-13 to host the San Diego Padres.

Before they set their sights on a seemingly friendly stretch of games, the Cardinals have a series finale on which to focus. Also, they get a second crack at a right-hander who nearly made history in his big league debut against them.

Spotting three pitches to all quadrants of the strike zone, Kingham retired the first 20 batters he faced before Paul DeJong singled with two outs in the seventh to end his bid for a perfect game. Kingham settled for a one-hitter over seven innings and a 5-0 victory.

In his last start Tuesday night, Kingham had a no-decision in an 8-6 loss to the Chicago Cubs, yielding three runs and eight hits over 5 2/3 innings. Manager Clint Hurdle is hoping Kingham can improve his location, particularly against left-handed hitters.

“They were able to put up good at-bats against Kingham,” Hurdle told mlb.com Tuesday night. “The left-handed batters barreled the ball up the entire game.”

Wacha has won six straight decisions since losing his first start March 31 at the New York Mets. His latest victory came Tuesday night in Milwaukee, where he gave up only two hits and a run over 6 1/3 innings with four walks and three strikeouts in a 6-1 victory.

Wacha is 5-3 with a 3.89 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) versus Pittsburgh.