With walk-off winner, Bourjos strengthens his case for more starts

Peter Bourjos (8) is mobbed after driving in the game-winning run with a ninth-inning single to beat the Pirates.

Chris Lee/AP

ST. LOUIS — Peter Bourjos has grown so accustomed to not being in the lineup this season that Mike Matheny usually gives him a heads-up the night before he is going to start.

But that might be changing. When you’re in the lineup every day, advance notice is not needed. Given the developments of the past two days, Bourjos might be working his way into the Cardinals’ lineup on a regular basis. Heck, what he did Wednesday afternoon should be enough to earn him another start.

Bourjos delivered the winning hit in a 1-0 victory over the Pirates when his ground single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth scored Yadier Molina from second base.

"I was definitely happy to be in the lineup today," Bourjos said. "Obviously, you never know with a righty out on the mound. I’ve been facing a lot of left-handed pitchers, getting my starts there."

But give Matheny credit. Like his team that has won five straight and gone 13 games over .500 for the first time this season, the Cardinals’ manager is hot. After Bourjos singled twice and scored twice Tuesday night, Matheny stuck with his speedy center fielder even though Pittsburgh was starting a right-hander, Edinson Volquez.

Though he liked Bourjos’ speed in center field with fly-ball pitcher Shelby Miller on the mound, the manager said going with Bourjos over Oscar Taveras was about more than defense.

Before the game, Matheny explained his decision. "Peter has been putting together some good at-bats, and not just against the lefties," he said. "Just like we’ve always done, (we’re playing) who’s going to help us best, and Peter Bourjos has done a real nice job with the opportunity we’ve given him. We need to keep Oscar sharp. He’s going to be in there, but I have a good feeling Peter is going to do something to help us win."

That he did. Bourjos not only drove in the only run of the game, but he also collected two of the Cardinals’ five hits. Against Pirates closer Mark Melancon, who was working past one inning for the first time this season, Bourjos took strike one before sharply grounding a cutter up the middle. The direction of the hit provided further evidence that Bourjos, hitting .339 since July 6, is in a groove.

"Staying up the middle is huge for me," he said. "When I’m getting my hits and swinging the bat well, that’s where I’m getting the majority of them."

Give hitting coach John Mabry props for his role in Bourjos’ performance. Not only has Mabry worked with Bourjos on shortening his swing and trying to go up the middle, he has stayed on Matheny to give Bourjos an opportunity.

"John Mabry has come up to me a number of times, talking about how he really likes where Peter is and how he’s making these improvements," Matheny said. "He’s always lobbying to try and reward these guys. Peter and I have had some great conversations. I know he doesn’t necessarily like being that guy sitting around to come in defensively or to pinch run. He believes he has more to bring to the table. Now he’s showing it. He’s making it obvious to everyone."

Keeping Bourjos in the lineup — and then not pinch-hitting for him with a right-hander on the mound with the game on the line — weren’t the only decisions that paid off for Matheny. The Cardinals weren’t hurt when Matheny opted not to go to a pinch runner when the slow-footed Molina drew a two-out walk. As obvious as such a move appeared, Matheny said he didn’t even consider pulling his All-Star catcher.

"There was plenty of people in the first several rows (behind the Cardinals’ dugout) that certainly wanted Yadi to be pinch run for," Matheny said. "Two outs, we’re in a tie game and his value to me behind the plate in that situation outweighs what we’re going to get on the bases. That’s something somebody may disagree with; I imagine there’s a bunch that do. If he gets thrown out at the plate, it’s a different conversation we’re having."

Even Molina wasn’t so sure he would stay in the game.

"I was thinking about that, but he trusts my speed," said Molina, smiling. "I made it. It was a good feeling, especially to sweep the Pirates and move forward."

The Cardinals move on to Milwaukee for a four-game series and a right-hander, 15-game winner Wily Peralta, is scheduled to start Thursday night for the Brewers. Bourjos hadn’t heard if he would be in the lineup but at this point, the bigger surprise will be if he’s not.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.