ST. LOUIS — The Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals kept it interesting this week. Twice in a row the Cardinals walked off with win. St. Louis surged closer to first place in the National League Central Division as the Cincinnati Reds did the same and the Milwaukee Brewers backtracked.
In the series finale Thursday, the Pirates scored three runs in one inning, four in another and took advantage of control problems from Cardinals starter Shelby Miller. Any time the center fielder makes a forceout at second base on a sacrifice bunt attempt, things get intriguing.
The Pirates had more fun Thursday, avoiding a sweep and beating the Cardinals, 9-1, at Busch Stadium. They rode Edinson Volquez in the Pirates’ first complete game this season.
“When it gets past the fifth, he smells the finish,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Volquez (8-6) allowed one run and used 114 pitches through nine innings. Volquez threw the first complete game for the Pirates since Francisco Liriano did it Aug. 14, 2013, also against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
“I didn’t even see the scouting report,” he said. “[Pitching coach] Ray [Searage] came to me and said, ‘Go pitch and win.’ ”
He allowed one run or fewer for the fourth consecutive start and pitched seven or more innings for the third time in that span. Those four starts came after he allowed eight runs in 21⁄3 innings June 18 against the Reds.
“Now I make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Volquez said. “It can happen, but I always keep it in mind, don’t let that happen.”
Hurdle spoke of an adjustment period early in the season while the Pirates tried to get Volquez to throw strikes, which he struggled with in 2013. Some of those strikes were hit hard. Now he is keeping the ball in the park and has a 3.65 ERA.
“I think the guy has re-found his skill set and he’s got a lot of confidence,” Hurdle said.
Russell Martin went 3 for 4 with a home run. Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen had two hits and two RBIs, and Pedro Alvarez went 2 for 5 with a run scored. McCutchen also stole two bases. After going 2 for 25 with runners in scoring position in the first three games of the series, the Pirates went 4 for 11 Thursday night.
They finish their road trip before the All-Star break by visiting the Reds, while the Cardinals head to Milwaukee to face the Brewers.
“It’s not going to be an easy series,” said Neil Walker, who had an RBI double Thursday.
Miller’s 50 walks entering Thursday were the third most in the National League, and they continued to trouble him against the Pirates. He walked four in five innings, three of them in a three-run fifth. Two of the batters he walked scored.
Miller needed 92 pitches to finish his five innings and allowed four runs before giving way to Tyler Lyons.
McCutchen singled with two outs in the first. He stole second and third, and scored on Martin’s single.
Miller’s leadoff walk to Jordy Mercer opened the doors in the fifth. Volquez sacrificed Mercer to second. Gregory Polanco also walked. McCutchen singled to score Mercer, and Walker followed with a two-run double.
The fun started in the sixth. Alvarez bounced a swinging bunt in front of home plate and reached first on an infield single. Mercer bounced into what should have been a force attempt, but Lyons threw the ball away.
Volquez tried to bunt but popped it up. It dropped, but third baseman Matt Carpenter retired Mercer at second — by throwing to center fielder Jon Jay, who raced in to cover second base. Walker called it the strangest three-play sequence he has seen. Polanco walked again to load the bases.
Harrison doubled to left-center field, but the ball bounced over the fence, forcing Polanco to stop at third. No matter; a passed ball scored Polanco. Once McCutchen drove in another run with a sacrifice fly, the Pirates led, 8-1.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.
First Published July 10, 2014 10:37 PM