ST. LOUIS -- Francisco Liriano was looking for a mulligan. Starling Marte was looking for redemption.
They got what they were looking for Wednesday night, and the Pirates got what they desperately needed: a win.
Liriano pitched his second complete game of the season and Marte delivered a two-run double as the Pirates beat the Cardinals, 5-1, at Busch Stadium.
The Pirates (71-48) snapped a four-game losing skid with the win and extended their National League Central Division lead over the Cardinals (68-51) to three games. The Cincinnati Reds (68-52) are just one-half game behind St. Louis.
Five days after his ugliest outing of his season, and perhaps his career, Liriano delivered his best start of the season, allowing one earned run on four hits to pick up his 13th win of the season, tied for the most in the NL.
"That was masterful," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "From start to finish. Talk about pitch efficiency. The first-pitch strikes were there. Punchouts were there. Swing and miss. Sixteen hitters retired on three pitches or less. Just outstanding."
Liriano allowed career highs in runs (10) and hits (12) Friday against the Rockies. But if he continues to pitch the way he did Wednesday, that rough start might be just a blip on an otherwise impressive season.
Liriano used pinpoint fastball command to prevent St. Louis batters from getting solid contact on any of his pitches.
After getting a handful of ground balls in the first couple innings, he got batters to chase. He struck out six batters and got four of them to whiff at his slider.
"It was sharp tonight," Liriano said of his slider. "It went where I wanted it to."
Catcher Tony Sanchez said Liriano pitched inside early to capitalize on the Cardinals' weaknesses. And as they game went along, Liriano went to his strength -- a devastating offspeed pitch.
"Started in the zone and ended up out of zone," Sanchez said. "There was a good foot-and-a-half, two feet of movement on that slider when it was good, and it forced a lot of swings and misses."
Liriano saved a taxed bullpen, which used six pitchers in the loss Tuesday night.
"Nasty pitches," said Marte, who himself was looking for a do-over after dropping a routine fly ball Tuesday night, turning a sure-win into an eventual loss.
Hurdle said Marte arrived at the ballpark Wednesday "in a good place," and he credited the veterans on his team for lifting Marte's spirits. He said he looked down in the dugout Tuesday night as players were talking to Marte after the fateful error.
"I just made him laugh," Andrew McCutchen said. "Sometimes that's all you've got to do."
Marte said he was feeling low Tuesday night, and those consolations helped.
"Everybody tried to help me," Marte said. "I was feeling pretty bad, and they just told me to keep my [head] up."
On Wednesday, he was ready to atone for that transgression.
The Pirates already had a three-run lead with two outs in the fourth inning when Marte stepped to the plate. He cranked a low-flying line drive that just cleared a diving shortstop, scoring runners from second and third to make it 5-0.
The ball didn't go into the gap, but Marte didn't care.
Marte sprinted out of the batter's box and never slowed down until he slid into second base, though most players would be content with a two-run single. He slid into second ahead of the throw of Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay for his 24th double of the season.
Earlier in the inning, Sanchez got his second career RBI to add to an early Pirates lead.
St. Louis rookie starter Shelby Miller took the loss after getting roughed up in six innings of work. Miller allowed five earned runs on eight hits, walking two and striking out five. Miller has lost all three career starts against the Pirates.
Pedro Alvarez led off the second inning with a mammoth home run that landed halfway up the grass slope batter's eye in straight away center field.
Alvarez crushed a 95-mph fastball from Miller, sending it 440 feet from home plate for his 29th home run of the season, tying him with Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt for the National League lead.
Two batters later, Garrett Jones abused another 95-mph Miller fastball with a hooking home run over the right-field wall. It was the 11th home run of the season for Jones and his first since he smacked a solo shot July 21 at Cincinnati.breaking - pirates
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published August 15, 2013 3:00 AM