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(The Sports Xchange) - St. Louis rallied for three runs in the bottom of the fifth after denying Pittsburgh a prime scoring threat to notch a 4-3 win on Tuesday in the opener of a series between the teams with the top records in the National League.
The Cardinals (72-40) got three hits and the tie-breaking RBI from rookie left fielder Stephen Piscotty and eight innings from starter Carlos Martinez (12-4) in improving their Central Division lead over the Pirates (65-45) to six games.
Martinez had wriggled out of a first-and-second, no-out jam in Pittsburgh's fifth, inducing a 6-3 double play from center fielder Andrew McCutchen and a lineout from third baseman Aramis Ramirez that shifted the momentum of the game.
"That was huge," St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong said of Martinez's escape act. "We knew we had to get something going on offense."
The Cardinals did, with Pirates starter Jeff Locke struggling with his fastball accuracy as he walked Wong and shortstop Jhonny Peralta to start the bottom of the fifth inning.
Right fielder Jason Heyward's ground ball single to right scored Wong to make it 3-2. After an infield out moved two runners into scoring position, catcher Yadier Molina lofted a sacrifice fly that brought in Peralta.
Piscotty then laced a single to center that brought Heyward home.
"It's odd to see a rookie with the kind of disposition that Stephen has," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
"He's going about it the right way. He's using all the tools at his disposal -- doing his film work, talking with the other hitters -- and he's adjusted quickly."
Given his first lead, Martinez mixed in more off-speed pitches to complement a fastball which was still touching 96 mph during the eighth inning.
"I know they've seen me before," he said through an interpreter, "so they know I throw hard. I had to throw other pitches to keep them off-balance."
Pittsburgh had nicked Martinez for runs in three of the first four innings. Shortstop Jung Ho Kang delivered a two-out RBI double in the first, while Ramirez snapped a 1-1 tie in the third with a two-out run-scoring single.
First baseman Pedro Alvarez increased the lead to 3-1 an inning later when he hit his 16th homer of the year, but that was it for the Pirate attack.
"It doesn't matter how you lose," McCutchen said. "No one likes to lose. All you can do is get ready for tomorrow."
Compiled by Greg Stutchbury