Cardinals 5, Pirates 3

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ST. LOUIS (AP)—Kip Wells got a new catcher, then he finally got a victory.

Wells ended a seven-game losing streak with seven strong innings and was backed by three home runs, a rare power display that helped the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 on Wednesday night.

In an effort to end the slump, manager Tony La Russa had Wells working with backup Gary Bennett instead of Yadier Molina for the first time.

“He came out there at one point and basically demanded that we make good pitches,” Wells said. “Not that Yaddy can’t do that, but having had a chance to work with Gary, I think it was a good change and a good opportunity for me.”

Bennett thought Wells was a lot more aggressive than in previous outings.

“He was trusting his fastball and attacking hitters rather than trying to trick everybody or pitch away from contact,” Bennett said. “He got the ball and was just firing it.”

David Eckstein opened the first with his fifth career leadoff homer, Jim Edmonds hit his second of the year in the second and Chris Duncan added a two-run shot in the fifth for the Cardinals, who have won two straight after losing five in a row.

The Cardinals have hit a major league-low eight homers this month, five from Duncan, who has connected in three straight games.

All of the homers came off Ian Snell (4-3), who had allowed only two in 58 2-3 innings all season and none in his three previous starts. Snell allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings for Pittsburgh, which has lost four in a row.

“I made mistake pitches and they put them out of the park,” Snell said. “They’ve got their groove back.”

The Cardinals were denied a fourth homer on center fielder Chris Duffy’s leaping catch at the wall robbed Juan Encarnacion for the second out in the first.

The barrage ended a string of 24 straight games without more than one homer at home for St. Louis, which entered the game last in the majors with 21 homers. The Cardinals had gone 57 innings without homering at home before Duncan hit a three-run shot in the sixth inning of a 9-4 victory over Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Before the game, La Russa labeled “taboo” discussion of the team’s home run drought.

“It’s just taboo to walk in there and tell these guys that this is the beginning of a power surge,” La Russa said. “But there were some nice swings.”

Wells (2-8) faced the Pirates for the first time since he went to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July and allowed one earned run on five hits in seven innings.

“Obviously, it feels like a little bit of a weight’s been lifted off your back,” Wells said. “But that doesn’t mean that five days from now it has any bearing on anything.”

Pittsburgh scored twice in the sixth with a rally started when Duncan over-ran Jose Bautista’s drive down the left-field line and near the warning track on a play ruled a double, and also marred by second baseman Adam Kennedy’s fielding error.

The Pirates were 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position a day after going 1-for-9 with five strikeouts with the bases loaded.

“We did a good job to get back in the game, but we couldn’t get over the hump,” manager Jim Tracy said. “That’s something that’s haunted us in a number of games this year.”

Wells, a budget free-agent pickup who replaced Jeff Weaver in the St. Louis rotation, entered with a major league high in losses, runs allowed (43) and a 6.75 ERA that he lowered to 6.10. He pitched with a lead for only the fourth time in 10 starts, and the Cardinals were outscored 42-8 in his previous five starts.

He had lost seven straight starts since allowing one hit in seven innings at Houston on April 8, his second outing of the season.

Adam LaRoche’s RBI double in the eighth off Randy Flores cut the deficit to a run. Scott Spiezio had a pinch-hit RBI single in the bottom of the eighth to restore the Cardinals’ two-run lead.

Jason Isringhausen got the last five outs for his 11th save in 12 chances. Isringhausen, who earned his first save in nine days, walked Jason Bay on four pitches to put runners on first and second with one out in the eighth, then struck out Ryan Doumit and Xavier Nady.

Ryan Franklin, the Cardinals’ usual setup man, was at home with strep throat.

“Izzy’s rested and the game’s on the line,” La Russa said “You can’t walk into the clubhouse and face your team and Kip Wells when you’re trying to finesse a couple of outs.”

Notes

Duffy batted second for the first time this season and the second time of his career in an effort to snap a 2-for-21 slump and was 2-for-4 with a run scored and a steal. He tripled ahead of LaRoche’s RBI double in the eighth. … The Cardinals are 38-17 against the Pirates the past four seasons. … Albert Pujols had two hits and is 13-for-29 during a seven-game hitting streak. … The Pirates have scored 18 runs in Snell’s past two starts, both victories.

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