PITTSBURGH -- It's a baseball axiom, as true as it's ever been: You can watch a lifetime's worth of games and still see things for the first time.
The Cardinals' 6-4 win over the Pirates at PNC Park on Tuesday night was dotted with such firsts, but capped by one big second. For the second time in five days, it was Nick Punto driving in the game-winning run for the Cardinals in their final turn at bat. This time it was a one-out RBI double in the ninth inning against Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan.
The Cards kept pace with the Braves in the National League Wild Card race, remaining 4 1/2 games back with 14 games to play. Their elimination number in that race dropped to 10 thanks to Atlanta's win, however. With Milwaukee's 2-1 win over Colorado, St. Louis remained 6 1/2 back in the NL Central.
As for those firsts...
Albert Pujols committed three errors in a game for the first time in his big league career. Chris Carpenter successfully executed an appeal to third base on an apparent sacrifice fly. And in back-to-back innings, the Cardinals turned double plays on balls that could or should have gone as sac flies.
Just another night at the ball yard.
"When you play this game, crazy things can happen," Pujols said. "Strange things. At the end, I just flip the page and I'm glad we got the win and those three errors didn't cost us the loss. Carp made some great pitches when he needed to and got us out of the jams. He didn't lose his composure. He stayed out there and made some good pitches."
The Pirates' bullpen had shut down the Cards over the previous three-plus innings before Hanrahan stumbled in the ninth. Daniel Descalso poked a one-out single to start the rally and was removed for pinch-runner Tyler Greene. With Greene taking off to steal, Punto smacked a liner into the gap in left-center and Greene motored all the way around to score for the go-ahead run.
An error, an infield hit and a Pujols sacrifice fly added an insurance run for the Cardinals. Jason Motte finished it off for his sixth save.
The Cards had let a 4-2 lead get away when Andrew McCutchen hit a mammoth homer against Carpenter in the seventh, tying the game and denying Carpenter a win on the day he agreed to a new contract. Carpenter was reached for four runs over seven innings, and had to work hard in just about every one of those frames.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, did plenty of damage early against starter Jeff Karstens but couldn't touch the Pittsburgh bullpen until the ninth. Carpenter's two-run single highlighted a three-run second, but the inning could well have been bigger. Rafael Furcal and Jon Jay both grounded out with two on, ending the threat. Still it was three runs, often enough for Carpenter.
"I walked [Skip] Schumaker and then it was a tumble effect," Karstens said. "More than anything, I didn't make pitches. I fell behind and gave them good pitches to hit and they did it."
In the fifth, Jay rapped an RBI double, but after putting two men on with no out, St. Louis added no more. Karstens struck out Matt Holliday and was pulled, and manager Clint Hurdle's quick hook paid off immediately when Lance Berkman hit into a double play against Daniel Moskos.
The Cardinals twice benefited from strange plays on potential or apparent sacrifice flies. In the fifth, Derrek Lee hit a ball to right that seemed to score Pedro Ciriaco from third, but the Cards appealed that the rookie shortstop had left early, and their appeal was upheld. Instead of a critical third run, it went for an inning-ending double play. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was ejected for arguing that call.
An inning later, with men on first and third and one out, Josh Harrison hit a fly to shallow right. Ryan Doumit, standing on third, never even tried to test Berkman on the play. When Pujols cut off Berkman's throw, he was able to chase down Garrett Jones, who had strayed into no man's land off of first base.
It was a bit of redemption for Pujols, because his two errors on the play before had set up the first-and-third situation. He couldn't corral Jones' grounder to him, and after he picked up the ball, his throw to the base got away, allowing Doumit to go to third.
"I knew Lance was pretty short, and he gave me a good throw," Pujols said. "That's something that you practice in Spring Training, hit the cutoff man. If he would have thrown that ball over my head, you would have had second and third right there and two outs. So he hit the cutoff man, and my job was to try and cut the ball and get that runner."
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.