Another Alvarez home run sparks Pirates to 5-0 win over Cardinals
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez watches his three-run shot in the third inning clear the right center wall against the Cardinals.
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It might have taken more than a month, but Wandy Rodriguez's first win as a Pirates starter could not have come on a more important night.
Rodriguez allowed three hits over six scoreless innings, and Pedro Alvarez boosted the Pirates at the plate for the second consecutive game as they beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-0, Wednesday at PNC Park.
With the victory, the Pirates (70-60) now trail the Cardinals (71-59) by one game in the race for the final National League wild-card playoff spot.
"For us to respond the way that we did, I'm very proud of the effort," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I've been proud of the effort all year long, and, obviously, the last two nights' results are what we're looking for."
The win sealed the Pirates' first series victory since they took two of three games from the Cardinals in St. Louis, their only two series wins this month. It also gave the Pirates an 8-7 season record against the Cardinals, which would give the Pirates home-field advantage in a play-in game if the teams tied for that final wild-card spot.
But recent history should temper enthusiasm. After the series victory against the Cardinals earlier this month, the Pirates dropped six of their next seven games, turning a two-game advantage over St. Louis into a three-game deficit.
After Rodriguez left the game, Tony Watson, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan completed the second consecutive shutout victory, a feat the Pirates had not accomplished since July 18 and 19 of last year against the Cincinnati Reds.
"You go against that offense and you put 18 zeroes on the board in 18 innings, I couldn't be any prouder of them," Hurdle said.
Hanrahan said the pitching staff's recent success is an encouraging sign.
"When we win, we pitch well," Hanrahan said. "That's what kept us going through the first half. We were throwing the ball well."
Ironically, Rodriguez, whom the Pirates acquired in a trade with the Houston Astros July 24, earned his first Pirate win as a starter against the same team he beat to earn his first win as a Pirate. He was credited with the victory after pitching two scoreless innings of relief in the Pirates' 19-inning, 6-3 victory at St. Louis Aug. 19.
He said he avoided the pressure of proving he was worth the Pirates' investment, joking with reporters that he felt more pressure conducting an interview in English.
Rodriguez attacked hitters with his two-seam fastball.
"I feel great," he said. "I came here to help the team, so, when I win like that, I feel very good."
He wasn't his sharpest Wednesday night, throwing 60 of his 96 pitches for strikes. He had three walks -- all to Jon Jay -- and struck out three to pick up his ninth victory this season.
"We did what we had to do," catcher Rod Barajas said. "Was he the sharpest that I've seen? No. His curveball wasn't as good as I've seen. But, when he got in that big situation, he made the pitch."
His counterpart, Joe Kelly, allowed five earned runs and eight hits in five innings.
Alvarez finished 2-for-4 to boost his season average against the Cardinals to .411. He extended an early Pirates lead with his third home run in the past two games -- a three-run, third-inning blast that put the Pirates up, 4-0.
Alvarez worked Kelly to a 3-1 count before pouncing on an 82 mph curveball the rookie left hanging over the plate, a line drive home run that landed in the last row of the right-field seats.
It was Alvarez's team-leading 26th homer, and his seventh against the Cardinals this season. He also doubled in the fifth inning and later scored when Josh Harrison singled to center as the Pirates climbed ahead, 5-0.
While his production the past two games has garnered a lot of attention, Alvarez has pieced together a solid month. He is hitting .318 with 5 home runs, 12 RBIs and 10 runs in August.
He finished the series against the Cardinals with eight hits in 13 at-bats.
"When he shows up like that, he's like the big kid on the playground," Hurdle said.
First Published August 30, 2012 12:16 am