- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Pittsburgh Pirates have spent the last five months relentlessly chasing the St. Louis Cardinals.

Given a chance to finally pull even, the Pirates instead all but handed their rivals a third straight division title.

Pittsburgh left 16 runners on base in a 3-0 loss on Monday, including two in the ninth with the tying run at the plate. St. Louis dropped its magic number to clinch the NL Central to two when pinch-hitter Aramis Ramirez lined out to first to end it.

St. Louis can wrap up the division with a win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

“We (couldn’t) care less what the number is,” Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison said. “Season ain’t over until it’s over.”

Maybe, but barring an epic collapse by the Cardinals, Pittsburgh will face the Chicago Cubs in the wild-card game on Oct. 7. The Cubs pulled within 3 1-2 games of the Pirates for the right to host that game by beating Kansas City 1-0 in 11 innings.

While Pittsburgh clogged the basepaths, St. Louis managed little until getting to Pirates closer Mark Melancon (3-2) in the ninth.

Matt Carpenter singled with one out and raced home to break a scoreless tie when right fielder Gregory Polanco overran Jon Jay’s single and center fielder Andrew McCutchen failed to pick it up cleanly.

“I dropped it, I just dropped it,” Polanco said.

Mark Reynolds followed with a two-run shot to the seats in right-center to give Trevor Rosenthal the cushion he needed to pick up his 48th save. Jonathan Broxton (4-5) earned the win after working the eighth.

Pittsburgh put runners on base in every inning but the first and had two on and nobody out in the ninth. Neil Walker struck out and Francisco Cervelli and Ramirez followed with lineouts.

“We were getting on base, but baseball’s a funny game,” Harrison said. “You’ve got to cash in when you get those opportunities, and we fell up short tonight, but it doesn’t do anything to deter us from the way we play.”

The Cardinals survived on a night they issued 10 walks. St. Louis starter Lance Lynn labored his way through five scoreless innings, most of them out of the stretch while the Pirates kept wasting opportunities to take control. Starling Marte was nailed at the plate to end the second while trying to score on a shallow fly to center by Jordy Mercer as Jason Heyward’s throw beat the speedy Marte by three steps.

Marte then struck out with the bases loaded to end the third. Polanco led off the fifth with a double only to run into an out at third on a chopper to shortstop by Harrison. Lynn needed 96 pitches to retire 15 batters, walking four with six strikeouts.

Pittsburgh starter J.A. Happ, a revelation since being acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline from Seattle, was decidedly more efficient. The lefthander allowed only Kolten Wong’s single leading off the third.

Otherwise, he was dominant, striking out four and needing only 56 pitches to get through six shutout innings to lower his ERA to 2.04 in 10 starts with the Pirates.


In the bottom of the seventh, Cardinals outfielder Stephen Piscotty was carted off the field following a violent collision with teammate Peter Bourjos while both tried to track down a shot to the gap in left-center by Harrison. The team said Piscotty was taken to the hospital with a head contusion, and all tests conducted were negative. He will be held overnight for observation.

Piscotty was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field. The rookie did manage a wave with his left hand before disappearing into a tunnel underneath the stadium, eliciting a big cheer from the Pittsburgh crowd.

“You hate to see things like that,” Harrison said. “You hope that he’s OK and it’s nothing too serious.”


Cardinals: C Yadier Molina’s injured left thumb will keep him out for the rest of the regular season. Molina, who suffered a slight ligament tear in the thumb on Sept. 20, met with a hand specialist on Monday and will be given at least a week off before being re-evaluated. … RHP Adam Wainwright, who tore his left Achilles tendon in April, could be ready to work out of the bullpen as early as Wednesday.


The series continues on Tuesday when Michael Wacha (17-6, 3.15) faces Pittsburgh’s Charlie Morton (9-8, 4.54). Wacha is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in six games against the Pirates. Morton is 2-11 in his career against the Cardinals, his last victory coming on April 4, 2011.

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