By BILL BRINK
The Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals kept it interesting this week. Twice in a row the Cardinals walked off. They surged closer to first place in the division as the Cincinnati Reds did the same and the Milwaukee Brewers backtracked in the wrong direction.
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 during another terrific start and took advantage of Cardinals pitching.
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 4 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.
Volquez (8-6) pitched the Pirates’ first complete game of the season, allowing one run. Volquez threw the first complete game for the Pirates since Francisco Liriano did it Aug. 14 of last season, also against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
He allowed zero or one runs 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 against the Reds June 18.
Shelby Miller’s 50 walks entering Thursday’s game 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 fourth. 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 inning. He stole second and third base, and scored on Russell Martin’s single.
Miller’s leadoff walk to Jordy Mercer opened the doors for three runs in the fifth. Volquez sacrificed Mercer to second. Gregory Polanco also walked. McCutchen singled to score Mercer and Neil 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 Tyler 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. Polanco walked again to load the bases.
Josh 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.