Lance Lynn was not a happy man Saturday night at PNC Park. The Pirates hung two runs on St. Louis’ starter in the second inning and scored another five in the third to take a 7-1 lead.
The big blow came in the third, when Russell Martin squared up a 94 mile-per-hour fastball left elevated over the middle of the plate for a three-run home run to right-center field. Martin’s 13th home run of the year responded to the only run the Cardinals scored off Pirates starter A.J. Burnett, and left Lynn screaming on the mound.
Martin’s blast came on a pitch nearly identical to the one he hit off Friday’s starter Shelby Miller, a 90 mile-per-hour fastball left in a similar location.
“Up and away a little a bit,” Martin said. “I like the ball up there.”
Lynn’s frustration continued when Jose Tabata legged out an infield single later that inning that bounced off Lynn’s glove, as the play ended with Lynn doubled over on the mound.
Lynn (13-9) was pulled after four innings, in which he allowed seven runs on 10 hits, walked three, and struck out four.
He never had a chance.
And after the third, neither did the Cardinals against a dominant outing from A.J. Burnett. Burnett (7-9) needed just 92 pitches to work through seven innings, in which he allowed just one run on four hits, walked one, and struck out six.
“Very professional outing. We didn’t get the result last time he was on the mound against them and he got some runs to work with,” Hurdle said. “He stayed aggressive, solid mix of all his pitches throughout the game.”
Pittsburgh (79-56) coasted to a 7-1 victory the rest of the way, and pulled a game ahead of the Cardinals (78-57) in NL Central. And, with 27 games still remaining in the 2013 season, tied their win total from the entirety of last year.
St. Louis scored in the third, as Kolten Wong led off with a single and made it to second on a hit-and-run that saw Daniel Descalso ground out. Carlos Beltran followed three batters later and singled Wong home.
“The third inning was the one challenge and he got out of that getting nicked with one run,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Very professional outing for Alan James.”
At that point, though, the Bucs already led 2-0.
Pittsburgh struck first in the bottom of the second when Martin scored on a RBI single by none other than Burnett. The next batter, Tabata, also singled to score Clint Barmes from third.
“Big swing from Alan to get things going, from A.J. just to get things going,” Hurdle said. “Tabata stays inside of a ball and was able to push it that way, we were able to add on a run.”
The Pirates had a chance to put a lot more than two on the board in the second, but Andrew McCutchen struck out with the bases loaded to end the frame.
In response to the one run the Cardinals scored, the Pirates scored five. And from there, A.J. Burnett retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced to corral his seventh win of the season.
“I was just able to get some quick outs here and there, and I made pitches when I needed to,” Burnett said. “It’s good hitter after good hitter in that lineup and you can’t let down. When you let down, that’s when they get you.”
While the early lead did not ease any pressure on Burnett, he kept the Cardinals on lockdown and faced only three batters in five of his seven innings.
“I’m just happy that I kept the lead this time,” Burnett said.
After Burnett exited, Vin Mazzaro worked two shutout innings and allowed two hits to put the finishing touches on the victory vaulting the Pirates into first place. Of course, even after clinching the advantage in the season series with the Cardinals, Burnett and the rest of his clubhouse keeps the steady approach.
“Every game’s important, no matter who play, especially right now,” Burnett said. “We’re making waves and we’ve got another game tomorrow that’s just as important.”