Sunday’s Game Report: Cardinals 4, Pirates 3

Sunday’s Game Report: Cardinals 4, Pirates 3

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals wanted to rest both Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado for Sunday’s game against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

It was a good thing the rest of the offense, including Albert Pujols, only took the first eight innings off.

Pujols hit career home run 697 as the Cardinals scored four runs in the span of five batters in the ninth – after being shut out on three singles through the first eight innings – to rally from a 2-0 deficit for the win.

Pujols broke a tie with Alex Rodriguez and now is alone in fourth place on baseball’s career home run list. The Cardinals have 21 games left for him to get the three homers he needs to join Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth in the exclusive 700 club.

Tommy Edman and Corey Dickerson led off the ninth with back-to-back doubles before Pujols launched a two-run homer, his 18th of the year, over the center field wall. Two batters later Tyler O’Neill’s homer capped the four-run inning, allowing the Cardinals to hold on for the win when Ryan Helsley gave up a home run in the bottom of the ninth.

According to ESPN Stat and Info, it was the 33rd go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later for Pujols in his career, the most by any player in the expansion era (since 1961). He had been tied with Mike Schmidt and Graig Nettles with 32.

The win reduced the Cardinals’ magic number for clinching the NL Central to 14, with their next two games coming against the second-place Brewers on Tuesday and Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.

Here is how the game broke down:

At the plate: The Cardinals saw only one pitch with a runner in scoring position through the first eight innings, when Yadier Molina grounded into a double play after back-to-back walks in the fifth … Their only hits until the ninth were a single by Lars Nootbaar in the second, a single by Tommy Edman in the sixth – extending his hitting streak to 13 games – and a single by Alec Burleson in the eighth, his first career hit … Pujols was hitless in his first three at-bats, then hit his second home run of the year in the ninth inning. The first homer also was in Pittsburgh on May 22, off position player Josh Van Meter, and that had been his only hit in 16 at-bats in the ninth inning this season before Sunday.

On the mound: Jose Quintana allowed one run on four hits before he was lifted with two outs in the sixth and a runner on first. He struck out four and walked one … Jordan Hicks gave up a home run in the seventh to Jack Suwinski one pitch after what looked like it should have been strike three of the at-bat … Helsley also allowed a home run with two outs in the ninth that made it a one-run game.

Key stat: The four-run ninth gave the Cardinals 14 runs in the ninth inning in their last five games. In the first eight innings of those five games they scored a combined total of 11 runs. In those five games the team is hitting .500 in the ninth inning (14-of-28) plus four walks.

Worth noting: Goldschmidt received his first day off since Aug. 24 and this was only the second game he has missed since July 29. Arenado had missed two games since July 29, on Aug. 25-26, when his daughter was born … Nootbaar’s single in the second broke an 0-of-22 streak and was just his second hit in 27 at-bats in September … Nootbaar helped set the stage for the ninth inning rally with two outstanding catches in right field in the eighth with two runners on base … Pujols has 34 career homers at PNC Park, the most in his career where he has played entirely as a visitor… Dakota Hudson allowed three runs over seven innings for Memphis on Sunday but was charged with three more runs when he left with one out in the eighth and the bases loaded and Genesis Cabrera allowed all three runs to score.

Looking ahead: The Cardinals will have the day off on Monday before beginning the series against the Brewers and then hosting the Reds for five games.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains

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