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STL@PIT: Alvarez crushes a three-run homer to right

PITTSBURGH -- For a month, Wandy Rodriguez had tried to convince the Pirates that they had made the right decision. With each fruitless start, the left-hander's load became heavier.

"Trying to validate that trade too quickly had been the biggest stumbling block for him," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had theorized. "He had a heightened sense of anxiety. He was over-amped."

Wandy Unplugged was a sight to behold Wednesday night.

Rodriguez (9-13) blanked the Cardinals on three hits over six innings to claim his first win in six Pittsburgh starts -- he earned a win pitching in relief on Aug. 19 -- as the country got plugged into the budding frenzy in the City of Bridges through the national telecast of the Bucs' 5-0 win in PNC Park.

"I feel great. I came here to help the team, so when I win, I feel better," Rodriguez said after having pitched most of the Pirates' second consecutive shutout of the National League's top offensive team.

Validation both for Rodriguez and the Bucs -- whose contention may have been only rumor outside Pennsylvania?

"It sure doesn't hurt," said Hurdle, whose pitching staff could not have rediscovered its missing mojo at a better time. "You go against that offense and put 18 zeros on the board ... I couldn't be prouder of them. The two starts [James McDonald had done the honors in Tuesday's 9-0 win] was just what we needed. The bullpen action followed through."

"Very frustrating," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of the consecutive shutouts. "We've had quite a bit of this. It's feast or famine, and it's hard to figure out what we need to do to get it going. You have to give credit to the other team. But we've said this several times: This offense shouldn't give people too much credit because we should be able to put a lot of runs up."

Helping clinch the important late-season series win over one of the most direct threats to the Bucs' postseason hopes, Rodriguez walked three and fanned three. Reverting to his days with the Astros, the win was only his second as a starter since June 14 -- but the Pirates loved the timing.

For one, it moved them within one game of the second NL Wild Card spot held by St. Louis. For two, it gave them their first season-series win over the Cardinals since 2008 -- that could be very important, because it would award any tiebreaking game between the teams to PNC Park.

And, foremost, it provided a nice backdrop for Pedro Alvarez's nightly heroics.

Alvarez dropped another hammer on the Cardinals with a three-run homer in the third that opened up a 4-0 lead. That blow off Joe Kelly compounded Alvarez's damage dealt to St. Louis for the season to seven homers and 23 RBIs in 15 games.

"Just going out there, competing," Alvarez said. "They're a great team, and they demand your full concentration. [Those gaudy numbers] are just one of those things."

The Bucs took advantage of a break to score the game's first run in the opening inning. Travis Snider, who had doubled with one out, wandered too far off the bag when Andrew McCutchen bounced back to the box. However Kelly, after a mere look at Snider, tossed to first for the out. Left alone, Snider then scored on a double off the right-field wall by Garrett Jones, which may not have been able to score McCutchen from first.

The next time he came across Jones, Kelly appeared to want no part of him in favor of Alvarez -- who had hit a weak grounder up the first-base line his first time up. Jones' turn came with Snider on third and two outs.

"He started throwing more offspeed pitches," said Jones, who had muscled up on a fastball in the first, "trying to get me to chase, throwing some pitches out of the strike zone. I tried to be patient. On [3-0], I had the green light, but the ball was down and away, so I let it go."

Jones got the four-pitch walk -- then Alvarez got all of Kelly's 3-1 pitch for his 26th homer, which pushed his RBI count to 70.

"He was being smart and actually trying to be smart with Alvarez, too," Matheny said of his pitcher. "There was still an extra base open."

"Pedro made them pay," Jones said of another example of the pick-me-up play that has turned around the Bucs' fortunes with dramatic swiftness.

Or, as Hurdle put it, "Forty-eight hours, the finish ... we're gonna battle. These guys play hard for one another."

"I feel very comfortable when I see the score," Rodriguez said of that 4-0 lead. "Then they make another run for me."

Kelly (4-6) had been recently moved back into the Cardinals' rotation, displacing 13-game winner Lance Lynn. He allowed five runs and eight hits in five innings, with three walks and three strikeouts.

"It wasn't very good at all. I wasn't throwing strikes like I wanted to. I fell behind some guys," said Kelly. "I let the hottest hitter beat me. I just made a bad pitch, and he made us pay. Usually, you don't want the best guy in the lineup to beat you, but I just happened to throw a bad pitch to him."

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