ST. LOUIS -- Pedro Alvarez blasted a solo home run to right-centerfield in the top of the 19th inning to help the Pirates escape a marathon game with a 6-3 victory against the Cardinals today at Busch Stadium.
The home run was Alvarez's 23rd of the season and the first by either team in the series, helping to end a game that drew comparisons to the 19-inning game the Pirates lost to the Braves last season, ended by a controversial call at home plate by umpire Jerry Meals.
That 19-inning game was a turning point for a team that had played well up until that point. Whether this win can buoy the Pirates to a strong finish will be determined in the next month and a half.
After Alvarez's homer, Andrew McCutchen singled with the bases loaded to add a pair of insurance runs.
Wandy Rodriguez, Monday's scheduled starter against the San Diego Padres, earned the win, pitching two scoreless innings of relief. It was his first relief appearance since Oct. 1, 2006, against the Atlanta Braves when he pitched for the Houston Astros.
It was his first win as a Pirate, acquired before the trade deadline in a deal with the Houston Astros.
Barret Browning took the loss for the Cardinals, allowing three earned runs in one inning.
The teams combined to use 16 pitchers -- not including one each as a pinch-hitter in extra innings.
With the victory, the Pirates (67-54) are two games ahead of the Cardinals (65-56) for sole possession of second place in the National League Central and the final NL wild card playoff spot.
They also remain undefeated this season, 4-0, in extra-innings games.
The Pirates had a few opportunities to end the game sooner.
They took a lead in the 17th inning when Garrett Jones hit an infield single with two outs and the bases loaded to score James McDonald and put the Pirates ahead, 3-2. McDonald was a pinch-hitter earlier in the inning and singled to centerfield.
But the Cardinals tied the score in the bottom half of the inning. As Juan Cruz tried to earn his fourth save of the season, he allowed back-to-back singles to Yadier Molina and Skip Schumaker that put runners on first and third with no outs.
Two batters later, Tony Cruz hit a sacrifice fly to score pinch-runner Ryan Jackson and tie the score.
The teams had been tied, 2-2, since the sixth inning before Jones' RBI in the 17th.
Michael McKenry nearly gave the Pirates a lead in the 15th inning with a drive to centerfield. But Jon Jay robbed him of a hit with a snow-cone catch as he slammed into the wall.
The Pirates had a chance to pull ahead in the top of the 11th when Josh Harrison hit a one-out triple. But after McCutchen intentionally walked, Neil Walker, playing for the first time since Wednesday, grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Prior to Harrison's triple, the Pirates had 14 consecutive plate appearances without a hit. The Cardinals went 15 consecutive batters without a hit until Allen Craig singled to leadoff the ninth inning. He never advanced past first.
Chris Resop pitched three scoreless innings, tying the longest outing of his career. He threw 47 pitches, 36 for strikes and allowed two hits and no walks. Kevin Correia, pitching in relief for only the second time this season, pitched two scoreless innings to extend the game.
Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia, making his first start since June 5 after being shut down with a shoulder strain, struck out a career high 10 batters in eight innings. He allowed two runs, both unearned, on five hits and did not surrender a walk.
Pirates starter Jeff Karstens also had a strong outing, allowing two earned runs on two hits in seven innings. He struck out four and walked one.
The Pirates rallied from an early 2-0 deficit with some small ball in the sixth inning.
Clint Barmes led off the inning with an infield hit -- a ball that split the defense on the right side of the infield. Karstens reached base with a sacrifice bunt that Garcia misplayed, giving the Pirates runners on first and second with no outs. After Jose Tabata dropped a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners, Josh Harrison hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield that scored Barmes.
After going 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position Saturday, McCutchen hit an infield single in his first opportunity Sunday, scoring Karstens to tie the score.
Karstens did not allow a baserunner until the third inning, when Rafael Furcal reached on Karstens' throwing error. Furcal hit a grounder to Karstens, whose throw to first base was about seven feet wide of the bag. The ball rolled into foul territory as the speedy Furcal took third base.
But Karstens avoided adding injury to insult by retiring the next two batters to escape the inning unscathed.
He allowed his first hit an inning later when Craig singled to right field. That baserunner wasn't as harmless.
After walking Matt Holliday, Karstens allowed a two-run double to Carlos Beltran, who smacked a low-flying line drive down the line in right field to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning.
The inning also featured an long battle between Karstens and Yadier Molina, who fouled off 10 pitches and watched three balls before putting the 14th pitch of the at-bat into play. Then, Josh Harrison made a diving stop at second and threw out Molina at first.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino.
First Published August 20, 2012 12:30 AM