Cardinals batter Pirates pitchers again to win 3rd straight

PITTSBURGH -- It's only a matter of time, slugger Lance Berkman spent most of the past three months figuring, before the St. Louis Cardinals put together a sustained run of their best baseball.

They've chosen a familiar place to perhaps begin an ascension up the NL Central standings.

Berkman and Yadier Molina homered during St. Louis' five-run fifth inning, Jaime Garcia won his 10th game and the Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second consecutive night, 9-1 on Saturday.

"I still feel like we have a run in us of really good baseball that we haven't really put it together yet," Berkman said. "You never know when something like that will start, but certainly the last two nights have been a step in that direction."

A day after hitting three homers in a 15-hit barrage, St. Louis won its third straight by collecting 12 hits in assuring itself a win in what many in Pittsburgh were calling the biggest series in PNC Park history.

No visiting team has won more games at the 11-year-old ballpark than the Cardinals, but they entered this series in a manner unlike the team has in many of its other trips there: behind Pittsburgh in the standings.

The surprising Pirates -- without a winning season since 1992 but in first place for four of the seven days leading up to this series -- lost their third consecutive game. Pittsburgh dropped into third place behind the Milwaukee Brewers and Cardinals in the division.

"Obviously they have a lot of good things going for them right now, but we played better today," Garcia said. "We were able to hit pretty good. It was definitely a big win for us."

Matt Diaz and Chase d'Arnaud each had two hits for the suddenly punchless Pirates, who have scored nine runs in their past five games.

For the second straight day, Pittsburgh bombed in front of a sellout crowd in a performance that had to remind the 39,102 of many of the previous 85 games between the teams at this ballpark -- the Cardinals are now 56-30 here.

But the Pirates had reached first place this late in a season for the first time in 19 years mainly by dominating the division, going 24-14 against the NL Central heading into the series.

The Cardinals, however, have won this division more than anyone, and they used a familiar combination of quality starting pitching and power to expose some of the first signs the Pirates' season-long feel-good story is unraveling.

"There's a lot of hype about this series, but to us, it's baseball," Pittsburgh third baseman Brandon Wood said. "I think that the first three or four series of the season are as important as this one right now. We just happened to be in the race right now and our record and the Cardinals' record are pretty close. What it is? July 23? There's a lot of baseball left."

Garcia (10-4) won for the fourth time in his past five outings, allowing one run on eight hits and a walk with five strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings. He's allowed five earned runs over his past four starts.

"Physically, it wasn't the best I've felt, but it was a good one," Garcia said. "I was able to stay in the game and battle, just find a way."

Kevin Correia (11-8) failed for the third consecutive attempt to become the first Pittsburgh starter since 2007 to earn his 12th win. He had already given up RBI singles by Molina and Daniel Descalso in the second before allowing five runs on five hits in not getting out of the fifth inning for the second time in his past three starts.

"My stuff has been as good as it's been all year," Correia said. "I'm in a situation where if I need to make good pitches to get a ground-ball double play, I'm giving up a double. In situations where I've got to do damage control, I'm giving up three-run innings. Instead of making a good pitch at the right time, I'm making the wrong pitch at the wrong time."

Skip Schumaker, Jon Jay and Albert Pujols opened the inning with consecutive singles. After Matt Holliday struck out, Berkman took a first-pitch slider into the shrubbery beyond the center-field wall for his NL-leading 27th homer.

It was the fourth homer by the Cardinals in 14 innings during the series, and each came on the first pitch.

Two batters after Berkman, Molina waited until the sixth pitch to pull a high fly down the left-field line that clanged off the foul pole for his second homer in as many nights and seventh of the season.

That ended the evening for Correia, who was charged with seven runs on eight hits and three walks.

"Bunch of good at bats that inning," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "You get that crooked number like that, it's up to Jaime to shut 'em down, and he did."

Each of the Cardinals' starting eight had at least a hit and a run or RBI, with Schumaker, Molina, Descalso and David Freese each collecting two hits.

"When we have a good day like this, that's what you see," La Russa said. "It's a deep lineup when we get all our guys in there."

Game notes
The teams wore throwback replica Negro League jerseys for the game. ... Pirates rookie leadoff hitter OF Alex Presley was a late scratch from the lineup with a bruised left thumb. ... Injured Pirates OF Jose Tabata (quad) was examined by team doctors in Pittsburgh after leaving a rehabilitation game Wednesday due to an aggravation of the injury. He will refrain from activity for a few days. ... Pittsburgh's 12 sellouts are their most since 2001.