Neil Walker is having himself quite a month of May.
Walker drove a hanging sinker from reliever Carlos Martinez over the Clemente Wall in right for a three-run homer in the seventh inning Friday night to lead the Pirates to a 6-4 win against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park.
Walker dropped his bat, watched it go, then circled the bases for what proved to be the winning hit as the Pirates won their third game in a row and fifth in their past seven games.
“Neil, when he’s in a good place, that foot goes down, he holds himself, he stays off of pitches that are low, high, and when the ball is over the strike zone he puts good swings on it,” said manager Clint Hurdle.
“It’s line to line. We all know what he’s capable of, and nobody’s pushed himself harder than he has to have a big bounce-back year for us offensively. He’s done a lot of stuff for us these first six weeks. … There was no bigger swing of the bat than his late one [tonight.]”
Walker finished 3 for 4 with four RBIs and also tied the score in the fifth with a single off Cardinals starter Michael Wacha.
For the month, Walker already is 12 for 32 (.375) with the 1 homer, 3 doubles, 7 runs scored and 10 RBIs.
Several other bats came alive Friday night as shortstop Jordy Mercer went 3 for 4 with a run scored and Jose Tabata went 2 for 3 with a sacrifice bunt from the leadoff position. Ike Davis also went 2 for 4 on a night the 3-4-5 hitters went a combined 1 for 11 with a walk.
“Any comeback wins are important. Our goal is to win series right now, especially here at home, win series. That’s the most important thing,” said Walker.
The Pirates record crept a game closer to .500 with the win, and stands at 15-20.
Walker’s fifth-inning single drove in Tabata, who had doubled with one out. His home run came with Mercer (single) and Gaby Sanchez (pinch-hit single) on base.
“You know what you’re going to get with Michael Wacha, he’s got a good arsenal of all pitches. The worst thing you can do with him is swing at pitches out of the zone,” said Walker.
“My approach was to shorten up and not try to do too much. [I was] fortunate to get myself into a couple hitting counts. Then the hit there in the seventh was something I didn’t expect, but same type of approach.”
Mark Melancon gave up a ninth-inning double to Daniel Descalso, but he stranded him to record his third save.
The Pirates trailed, 4-3, before Walker’s homer because Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta hit a solo home run off reliever Jeanmar Gomez in the seventh.
Wacha, and Pirates starter Francisco Liriano turned the game over to their bullpens after five innings with the score tied, 3-3.
Liriano, still searching for his first win this season gave up five hits, three earned runs, four walks (one intentional), and a homer to Allen Craig in the fourth. He struck out five.
“Was trying to go down and in and just missed my spot. Just a mistake, and it changed the whole game,” said Liriano of Craig’s homer. “Every time you make a mistake, you get hurt. So feel like every outing I’ve been making a lot of mistakes, so I’m just trying to get better, execute my pitches and get ready for my next start.”
Wacha allowed seven hits, three earned runs, with one walk and seven strikeouts.
Two big swings of the bat defined the game before a short 25-minute rain delay in the fourth.
Davis delivered a ground-rule double off Wacha with the bases loaded in the first to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.
Tabata opened the game with a comebacker at Wacha’s right ankle for a leadoff single, and Walker singled to move Tabata to third. A walk and two strikeouts later, Davis drove a 2-2 changeup to left.
Liriano gave up a leadoff double and a walk to the Cardinals in the first, but was locked in after that, retiring seven in a row until the fourth.
After consecutive singles to start the inning, Craig drove an 0-1 slider into the bullpen in center to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez