HOT HITTER–Pittsburgh Pirates’ Russell Martin, right, is congratulated by teammate John McDonald after hitting a solo home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, April 28, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
by R.B. Fallstrom
ST. LOUIS (AP) — It was a milestone day for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who took the NL Central lead for the first time since last July and reached 15 wins in April for the first time since 1992.
Manager Clint Hurdle thought his 700th career victory was a footnote at best, considering he has 808 losses. Players gave him a toast all the same.
“It means you’re gifted and blessed with the opportunity to do this for a while,” Hurdle said after the Pirates beat the Cardinals 9-0 Sunday for a series win and the division lead. “You don’t talk about the other number because the other number is bigger.”
Rookie Jeff Locke gave a salute to his manager after pitching seven innings of three-hit ball and Russell Martin had two of Pittsburgh’s four home runs.
“It’s special to be the guy on the mound that day,” Locke said. “I was awfully happy for him, and it’s not the last one.”
Garrett Jones had three hits and John McDonald had a key bloop RBI double for Pittsburgh, which ended rookie Shelby Miller’s streak of 14 scoreless innings at home to start the season. The Pirates have won nine of 12 overall and have the division lead for the first time since July 8, leapfrogging St. Louis for first place.
“It helps us believe we have the team we think we have,” Martin said. “The key is to be consistent and do it every day, and we’ve been doing it every day.”
Locke (3-1) has worked 13 scoreless innings while allowing five hits his last two starts. The Cardinals got just three singles and advanced two runners into scoring position against the 25-year-old left-hander, who earned the fifth spot in the rotation with a strong spring.
Justin Wilson allowed a walk the last two innings to wrap up the Pirates’ fifth shutout, tied for the league lead with St. Louis and San Francisco. All of them have been collaborations.
The Cardinals lost consecutive games for the first time this season, managing just 11 hits. They didn’t get much going against Locke after some hard outs the first time through the order.
“It looked like good things were going to be coming the second time through,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He mixed it up, kept us off-balance, and just shut us down.”
Miller (3-2) struggled to put away hitters and was taken out after 113 pitches and giving up two homers in 5 2-3 innings. He struck out seven, one off his season best, and was charged with a three runs after John McDonald greeted Fernando Salas with a well-placed pop fly that barely dropped in for an RBI double.
The 22-year-old rookie, who entered among the NL leaders with a 1.44 ERA, said he simply left too many pitches up.
“I probably can’t even count on my fingers how many balls I threw down in the zone,” Miller said. “The ball might have been carrying a little bit, but that’s no excuse.
“I’m still getting hit hard, they were seeing the ball well.”
Left fielder Matt Holliday took a circuitous route and just missed a diving catch with the ball deflecting off his left wrist, and Brandon Inge scored from first on a close play at the plate for a 3-0 lead.
Martin hit his fourth homer with a 412-foot drive to straightaway center in the second. He doubled off the right-field fence in the fourth for his fourth straight extra-base hit, two of them homers, then added a two-run shot to cap a five-run ninth.
It was the seventh career multi-homer game and first since June 10-12, 2012, for the Yankees against the Mets for Martin, who’s hitting .409 since April 15 and batting .267 overall after going hitless in 17 at-bats his first seven games.
“I think it’s just the law of averages,” Martin said. “Everything that happened earlier in the year is now going my way right now.
“Balls that are pretty much left over the plate, I’m not missing right now.”
Tabata lined a 2-2 pitch over the right-field wall in the fifth for his first homer, giving him a hit in 21 of 23 career games at Busch Stadium.
Jones’ second homer and first in 50 at-bats since April 8 barely cleared Shane Robinson’s leaping attempt the wall in the seventh to make it 4-0. First base umpire Laz Diaz initially ruled no homer, but it was quickly overturned after the Pirates appealed.
Mitchell Boggs allowed two hits and a run-scoring groundout by Gaby Sanchez in the ninth, and was charged with three runs in two-thirds of an inning. Boggs lost the closer’s job earlier this month and has allowed 15 earned runs in 10 2-3 innings.
Boggs and Matheny both thought the pitcher deserved better this time. After deconstructing his outing, Boggs struck a note of defiance.
“Yeah, it’s hard to be positive, but at the same time you have to do everything you can to fight every single day and I’m doing that,” Boggs said. “If anybody can’t see that, they’re crazy.”
NOTES: Adam Wainwright (4-1, 1.93) goes for his fifth win in as many starts in the opener of a three-game series against the Reds and Mat Latos (1-0, 2.16). … The Pirates are 4-0 in starts by Wandy Rodriguez (2-0, 1.66) entering a three-game series at Milwaukee and Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 4.97). … Jason Grilli is the first Pirates pitcher to earn 10 saves in April since Mike Williams also had 10 in 2002.
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