St. Louis topples Pirates, stays hot

The Cardinals have built a 5 1/2-game lead over the slumping Reds.
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Chris Carpenter pitched a three-hitter to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates for the fourth time this season, and the St. Louis Cardinals also got a homer from Preston Wilson in a 3-1 victory Friday night.
Juan Encarnacion had two hits and an RBI for the Cardinals, who are 6-1 during a nine-game homestand to regain control of the NL Central. St. Louis has built a 5 1/2-game lead only eight games after they were in a virtual tie with the Reds.
They fell that low in part because of a three-game sweep at Pittsburgh from Aug. 11-13.
The loss was the 82nd for the Pirates and ensured their 14th consecutive losing season, the longest stretch of futility in major American sports. Pittsburgh swept the Cubs before coming to St. Louis and is 23-22 since the All-Star break, but 53-82 overall.
Strong pitching
Carpenter (13-6) has dominated the Pirates in all four of his starts, allowing three runs in 30 innings. He struck out eight and walked none for his 23rd complete game and had such command that the first 18 batters saw only 16 balls.
The Pirates entered the game having totaled 28 runs on 49 hits in the previous three games. Against Carpenter they scratched out a run in the third on a leadoff single by Ronny Paulino, a wild pitch and two groundouts, with pitcher Zach Duke getting the RBI. Pittsburgh got only one runner into scoring position after that.
Carpenter, the NL Cy Young winner last year with a 21-5 record, is hitting his stride in time for the stretch run. In his last four starts he's 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA, allowing only four runs on 16 hits in 34 innings, with 26 strikeouts and one walk.
Encarnacion had an RBI single off Duke (8-13) in the first and a second run scored on a wild pitch for a 2-0 lead. Wilson hit his 13th homer leading off the third for a 3-1 lead.
Wilson has two homers in the leadoff spot, one of them coming in the first, since signing with the Cardinals on Aug. 18. He has eight RBIs in 11 games with St. Louis.
Duke gave up three runs and eight hits in seven innings and has lost his last three starts. He threw a complete-game victory over the Cardinals on Aug. 11 and is 2-1 against St. Louis this year.
Freddy Sanchez was 0-for-3 and his NL-leading average fell to .345.
Before this game, the Pirates had won the opener in five of the previous six series. ... Duke has allowed 31 runs in the first inning of his 29 starts. ... Encarnacion is 7-for-12 the last three games.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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