Pirates look 'much different' in 3-1 win against Cardinals


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ST. LOUIS -- One twenty-seventh of this baseball season is gone for the Pirates, that's all.

But, what they did Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium might have swung some perception about what has happened and what could happen.

With a 3-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates head into the home opener today against Colorado at PNC Park with a 4-2 record fueled by a new brand of high-risk, wide-open, take-an-extra-base baseball commanded by first-year manager Clint Hurdle. Had the Pirates lost Wednesday, the first road trip likely would not have been viewed the same way.


Today

Game: Pirates vs. Rockies, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio: Root Sports, WPGB-FM 104.7.

Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Esmil Rogers (2-3, 6.13 ERA in 2010).

Key matchup: Pirates manager Clint Hurdle vs. his old team. Hurdle spent 1,159 games as manager of the Rockies, winning the NL pennant in 2007. Surely this -- coupled with his first home opener managing the Pirates -- will make for an emotional day.

Of note: In eight starts against the Rockies, Maholm has a 1-6 record and 7.11 ERA.

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Simply put, a 4-2 record looks much different than 3-3, and the principals know it.

"Much different, much different," third baseman Pedro Alvarez said. "Instead of going home with a .500 record and no momentum, we go into this home opener with momentum and feeling good about everything.

"That's important to us, it's important to the people who are fans of ours, we know that. I can't wait to get out there. We're able to get out on the field in front of our own fans [today] and maybe show them that we went out on the road and rallied around each other to start the season."

After all, the Pirates won half as many road series (two) to start this season as they won all last season (four).

And with the win, the Pirates captured consecutive road series for the first time since 2007. The previous time the Pirates had won consecutive road series was when they defeated Colorado in three of four games (Aug. 20-23, 2007) and two of three in Houston (Aug. 24-26).

"It's a complete 180 from last year," said Pirates relief pitcher Evan Meek, who shrugged off earlier struggles to pitch well Wednesday. "The hearts and the heads are real high right now, and they should be. Everyone should be really confident about where we are. Everyone is doing their job."

Especially the starting pitchers. Wednesday, right-hander Kevin Correia put together his second solid outing and second win, working seven shutout innings. He gave up five hits, struck out three and walked two.

"A very good start, and he was very efficient," Hurdle said of Correia, who threw 54 of 89 pitches for strikes. "He just kept them off-balance. Worked in and out, was really stroking the ball down and away ... really nice to see him have back-to-back good outings."

And the offense finally got to Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter at least a little bit. The previous time Carpenter (0-1) lost to the Pirates was in June 2004, when Jason Kendall was the leadoff hitter and manager Lloyd McClendon used Mark Corey to pitch out of a late-game jam.

This time, the Pirates stopped Carpenter's 10-game win streak against them to take some significant momentum into the home opener. It helped that a 2-0 lead was built in the first five innings, with a Ryan Doumit RBI double in the fourth and Neil Walker's second homer of the season in the fifth. Such a lead gave Meek some space in the eighth.

Meek, who struggled in his previous two appearances and entered with a 21.60 ERA, worked the eighth, striking out Ryan Theriot, getting Colby Rasmus and slugger Albert Pujols to fly out.

When Meek reached the dugout after the 1-2-3 inning, every teammate there met him at the top step to congratulate him.

"When you're riding on two outings like my last two, it would have been real easy to get a lot of doubt in my mind," Meek said.

"I just said that I needed a good outing, and this was a good step in the right direction. After I got out of the inning, and everyone knows I've been frustrated, for them to greet me, that's awesome, a good feeling."

The Pirates tacked on a run in the ninth on Lyle Overbay's double and Meek handed the ball to closer Joel Hanrahan, who gave up a run before nailing down his fourth save.

"Our goal is to win every series, regardless of who we're playing," Hurdle said. "We're not going to lower the bar based on other people's opinions of who we are or what we are. We play to win, and we came out of the road trip in a good place."


Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com .


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