Cardinals continue offensive surge, defeat Pirates 8-3
PITTSBURGH -- Several players who have given the Pirates trouble for years helped the St. Louis Cardinals finish a rare sweep in Pittsburgh.
Mike Leake pitched seven effective innings, Matt Holliday homered and the Cardinals cruised to an 8-3 victory Sunday.
Randal Grichuk also homered for surging St. Louis, which has won five consecutive games and swept a series at PNC Park for the first time since August 2009. Holliday and Yadier Molina each had three hits.
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"We just tried to come here and play the game the right way and tried to win games, and obviously we haven't done this in a long time here, a sweep," Molina said. "This is great; we played a great three games."
Molina and Holliday have combined for 310 career hits against Pittsburgh. Leake had won seven straight decisions versus the Pirates before losing his previous outing against them in April.
St. Louis entered the weekend having lost 22 of its past 31 in Pittsburgh, but won a series at PNC Park for the first time since 2012.
"At the end of the day, you're still trying to pinpoint what they don't hit the best," said Leake, who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds before this season. "My fastball-cutter combination was working pretty well."
Leake (5-4) won for the fifth time in six decisions, limiting the Pirates to two earned runs and six singles with no walks and six strikeouts. He also went 2 for 3 at the plate and scored during the Cardinals' three-run third.
The slumping Pirates have lost a season-worst five straight and fell a season-high 12 games behind the first-place Cubs in the NL Central. The second-place Cardinals remained nine games back.
"We've seen some good things here, but I think there's more for us," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "We need that well-rounded, all-those-pieces-together, and I think we're seeing a little more of that, which should then set the template for what kind of team we can be. We haven't done it enough yet for it to be identity. I think it's our expectation, though, and this looks a little more like it."
St. Louis scored four times in the sixth, capped by Grichuk's solo homer to left field that ended the evening for Pirates starter Jonathon Niese. Grichuk snapped out of a 2-for-24 slump with the home run, his eighth.
Niese (6-3) lost for the first time since May 9. He was charged with season highs for runs (eight) and hits (11).
"A couple innings there snowballed on me," Niese said. "And that was the difference."
The left-hander had gone 3-1 with a 1.74 ERA over his past five starts and tossed seven scoreless innings in his previous outing.
"He was in the zone," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said, "but a lot of those times the execution was lacking. A lot of balls got up a little bit, more so than normal."
David Freese and Starling Marte each had two hits and an RBI for the Pirates.
Holliday's two-out solo homer in the first inning was his 11th of the season and second in two games.
Cardinals: 2B Matt Carpenter (sore finger) missed his second consecutive game, but with an off day Monday he is expected to return to the lineup when St. Louis hosts Houston.
Pirates: Hurdle said the team was still awaiting test results before determining whether RHP Gerrit Cole will pitch Thursday. Cole left his start Friday because of right triceps tightness. ... After leaving Saturday's game when he aggravated a foot injury, catcher Chris Stewart did not start Sunday but was available off the bench.
Cardinals: St. Louis begins a stretch in which it will play American League teams 12 of the next 15 games, beginning with two games Tuesday and Wednesday against the Astros. LHP Jaime Garcia (4-5, 3.89 ERA), who allowed a career-high 13 hits in a win Wednesday, starts Tuesday against Houston RHP Doug Fister (6-3, 3.34).
Pirates: For the first time in 32 days, the Pirates have a scheduled off day Monday. They will travel to New York to face the Mets from Tuesday through Thursday after taking two of three from the defending NL champions at PNC Park last week. Tuesday's pitching matchup is Pittsburgh RHP Juan Nicasio (5-5, 5.34 ERA) vs. New York RHP Jacob deGrom (3-2, 2.80).