By Will Graves
Russell Martin drove home Neal Walker with the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and the Pittsburgh Pirates rallied to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4 on Wednesday night.
Martin’s sharp grounder off Trevor Rosenthal (1-2) rolled into left field, giving Walker enough time to score from second. The Pirates’ fourth straight win over the Cardinals gave Pittsburgh a 2 1/2-game lead in the NL Central.
St. Louis left 11 runners on base and dropped its seventh consecutive game. The Cardinals led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 but couldn’t hold on.
Tony Watson (3-1) worked two shutout innings in relief. Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth for his fifth save.
Matt Holliday had three hits and drove in two runs, and the Cardinals’ struggling offense put together 13 hits.
Walker hit his seventh homer of the season off Adam Wainwright in the first inning, starting a pattern that repeated itself throughout the night. The Cardinals found ways to score off starter Jeff Locke, but Pittsburgh kept chipping away.
Martin’s second hit of the night gave Pittsburgh its 25th comeback win of the season.
The teams with the two best records in the National League were mostly spectators before Wednesday’s non-waiver trade deadline, though the Pirates acquired minor leaguer Robert Andino from Seattle.
Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington stressed he aggressively sought help for one of the National League’s weaker offenses but didn’t want to do it while gutting a replenished farm system.
“We talk a lot about, we don’t want to do something stupid,” Huntington said before the game. “We were willing to do something stupid, we just didn’t want to do anything insane.”
Instead the Pirates, like the Cardinals, opted to do nothing major. The difference is the Cardinals have a roster dotted with players sporting World Series rings. Not Pittsburgh, which is in pursuit of its first playoff appearance in more than two decades.
While Huntington will continue to search for help, he isn’t sure his team needs that much, even on a night Locke didn’t have his best stuff.
Locke’s rapid ascension from fifth starter to All-Star has fueled Pittsburgh’s relentless pursuit of the Cardinals, but St. Louis spent four innings pecking away at the left-hander’s usually deft mix of breaking balls.
The Cardinals came in hitting just .155 (30-194) during their late-July swoon but peppered Locke for 10 hits, the most he has given up in 31 career starts.
They came in various shapes and sizes, from a hard-hit double by Beltran in the fourth to a swinging bunt by David Descalso that traveled 20 feet. Locke tied a season high by giving up four runs. He struck out six and walked one as his ERA rose from 2.15 to 2.36.
Wainwright, however, couldn’t take advantage of the first signs of life by the St. Louis offense in a week. Every time the Cardinals would push in front, the Pirates would chip away, eventually tying it on a sacrifice fly by Andrew McCutchen in the fifth. It marked the third straight day the Pirates produced a run on a sac fly after failing to do so for nearly two months.
Wainwright allowed four runs on eight hits, striking out six and walking one in seven innings.
NOTES: The Pirates placed reserve C Mike McKenry on the 15-day disabled after he underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Rookie Tony Sanchez, Pittsburgh’s top pick in the 2009 draft, will serve as the primary backup to Martin for the rest of the season ... The series concludes Thursday with Pittsburgh’s Charlie Morton (3-2, 3.59 ERA) facing Joe Kelly (1-3 3.44). The Pirates are 5-1 in Morton’s last six starts.