A rookie pitcher, a fiery veteran, a couple outfield bloopers and Alex Presley's wild, walk-off single in the 11th inning of the opener lifted the Pirates to a doubleheader sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday that also gave them the best record in baseball.
The Pirates beat the Cardinals in the first game, 2-1, and 6-0 in the second, turning a half-game deficit in the National League Central race into a 1 1/2-game lead in the span of a few hours.
They also moved to a season-high 22 games over .500.
"This is a great baseball town," manager Clint Hurdle said.
"This was a great baseball town for a long time. We're making every effort to make it a great baseball town again. ... We've covered some distance, but we've got more to cover."
Pirates vs. Cardinals, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
LHP Jeff Locke (9-3, 2.15) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (13-6, 2.51).
- Key matchup:
Wainwright vs. Andrew McCutchen, who is 9-for-21 against him.
- Hidden stat:
Wainwright's 18 walks in 161 2/3 innings this season are the fewest in baseball among qualified starters.
In this highly anticipated five-game set against the Cardinals (62-43), the Pirates (64-42) already have assured themselves a series victory by winning the first three games.
Rookie pitcher Brandon Cumpton pitched seven shutout innings against the best offense in the league as the Pirates won the second game.
Cumpton struck out five, walked one and allowed three hits to earn his first major league victory in a spot start. He was recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis earlier Tuesday to help the Pirates pitch through two games in one day.
"I just tried to fill it up, throw strikes, and my defense made plays," Cumpton said.
It was the best start of Cumpton's career, which spans four outings, all spot starts. He started the year 13th on the team's starting pitching depth chart, but Tuesday he led the Pirates to one of their biggest wins this season.
"I thought his overall command was the best we've seen since he's been up," Hurdle said. "All his pitches came into play."
Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday misplayed two balls in left, including a fifth-inning, two-run homer that bounced off the heel of his glove and into the left-field bleachers. It was the 15th home run for Andrew McCutchen, and it gave the Pirates a 4-0 lead.
In the next inning, Holliday slammed into the wall about three feet away from where Josh Harrison's ball connected with the padding as Harrison raced to a leadoff triple.
From then on, Holliday was heckled by many of the 33,861 in attendance, especially those in the left-field bleachers who, apparently, took advantage of 17 uninterrupted innings of beer sales.
"We love the support," Hurdle said. "They've been great. We want more.
"We've probably got to do more to earn more from them. Everybody's got their own level of confidence for when they're going to buy in. And there's probably still some waiting to see."
In the first game, Presley provided the win.
After fighting his way to a full count, he hit a ball up the middle that looked like a double-play opportunity for the Cardinals.
But reliever Kevin Siegrist tried to snag the ball out of the air and instead deflected it away from second, allowing Russell Martin to score and the Pirates to celebrate.
"It's a good thing he tipped it," Presley said.
"I don't know if he would have doubled me up or not, but to get a hit right there was awesome."
A.J. Burnett allowed one earned run and three hits in seven innings, striking out nine and walking three in his sharpest outing since he returned from the disabled list earlier this month after a strained right quad.
He threw 113 pitches, 71 for strikes, and had words with home-plate umpire Eric Cooper and third-base umpire Jeff Kellogg in the sixth when Cooper allowed Jon Jay to reach second after Burnett rung him up for strike three.
The swinging strike hit Jay on his left foot and bounced away from the plate, but Cooper ruled the pitch a dropped third strike.
Major League Baseball Rule 6.05 (f) states the batter is out if he attempts to swing at a third strike and the ball touches him. Cooper determined the ball did not touch Jay, although video replay showed otherwise.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published July 31, 2013 4:45 AM