ST. LOUIS -- David Freese had packed about a week's worth of frustration into half a game on Thursday night. Fortunately for Freese, he still had half a game left.
Freese atoned for a couple of missteps with a go-ahead two-run single in the fifth inning, and Matt Holliday put the game away with a three-run home run in the eighth as the Cardinals beat the Pirates, 8-4, at Busch Stadium. It was St. Louis' third win in 10 games. The Cards had lost three straight series openers prior to the victory, which moved them within 9 1/2 games of first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central.
Edwin Jackson worked through, and then around, a dodgy third inning to improve to 3-2 as a Cardinal. Jackson briefly lost the strike zone in the third but recovered to last six innings.
With the Cards trailing, 4-3, in the fifth, Pirates starter Charlie Morton loaded the bases on a single and two walks. Freese took a pair of pitches before staving off a 1-1 sinker on the inside part of the plate, looping it into right field for the tying and go-ahead runs. That chased Morton and gave Jackson his second lead of the game.
"I was trying to pop out," Freese said, maybe half-jokingly. "I was like, 'If I go up here this AB and try and pop out, something might fall.' He's got one of the best sinkers in the game. He's got arguably the best sinker I've seen in my short career."
It had, up to that point, been a forgettable game for Freese, who entered Thursday in a 3-for-24 slump. He grounded out with a runner on second to end a first-inning rally, and two frames later he hit into an inning-ending double play with two men on. That had cost the Cardinals a chance to regain the lead after they had lost it in the top of the third.
Meanwhile, it was Freese's error in the top of the third that opened the door for the tying Pirates rally. It's fair to say that the go-ahead hit came at a welcome time for Freese.
"I never worry about him," Holliday said. "He made an error, but it was an in-between hop that kind of came up on him. He's a good hitter. I'm never surprised when he gets a hit, and it was a big hit."
The third-inning outburst was the biggest blemish on what overall was a nice night for Jackson. The error started the inning, and Alex Presley's single to center brought home the first run with two outs. Jackson did walk a pair of batters after that, setting up Garrett Jones' two-run single. However, the right-hander only allowed one more run before handing it over to the bullpen.
And that bullpen did solid work, particularly Jason Motte, who dodged trouble in the eighth. After Jones' leadoff single against Marc Rzepczynski, pinch-runner Xavier Paul stole second base with no outs. Yet Motte got a groundout, a strikeout and a popup to end the inning, stranding Paul at third base and getting the game to closer Fernando Salas.
Salas wasn't really needed, though, thanks to Holliday. He, like Freese, turned around what had been a bit of a frustrating night with one swing, having gone 0-for-4 up to that point. After Albert Pujols was intentionally walked, Holliday hit his first home run since Aug. 5.
"We felt confident that if we could get the ball where we needed to get the ball that we could have a much better opportunity in getting him out," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. "We just missed our location big time right there."
Pujols had an RBI double and scored three runs for the Cardinals, who had their greatest offensive output since Aug. 7.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.