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AP - Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals were two outs from entering their crucial series against the Pittsburgh Pirates tied for the second NL wild-card spot.

But if anyone can get them even quickly, it's Jake Westbrook, who will try to win a career-best sixth consecutive start Friday night to open this three-game set between division rivals.

The reigning World Series champions are tied with San Francisco at 64-54, one game back of Pittsburgh (65-53). The Cardinals held a 1-0 lead with Jason Motte trying to finish off Arizona late Thursday night after an 85-minute rain delay before the game, but he allowed homers to Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Young on consecutive pitches in an eventual 2-1 loss to the Diamondbacks.

"It wasn't good,'' Motte said after blowing his first save since June 17 and fifth in 32 opportunities. ''I didn't do my job tonight. It was one of those things."

Westbrook (12-8, 3.62 ERA), meanwhile, has been a driving force in getting St. Louis into playoff contention, compiling a 2.94 ERA during his winning streak. The right-hander matched his 2011 win total after beating Philadelphia on Saturday, getting 17 groundouts during 7 2-3 innings of one-run pitching in a 4-1 victory.

"He was as good as we've seen him,'' Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. ''His sinker was falling off the table.''

After dropping two starts to the Pirates earlier this season while being backed by only two runs, Westbrook notched his first career win against them in a 5-4 victory July 1 despite giving up four runs and nine hits in six innings. He is 1-5 with a 5.18 ERA in seven starts and 11 lifetime games versus the Pirates.

While Westbrook has flourished, Pirates counterpart James McDonald (10-5, 3.77) has foundered. The right-hander is 1-2 with an 8.71 ERA in six starts since the All-Star break, with the worst outing last Friday when he allowed a season-worst seven runs in 4 1-3 innings to San Diego as he blew a 6-1 lead.

The Pirates got him off the hook for the loss by rallying before eventually losing 9-8.

Still, Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage was encouraged by McDonald's side sessions ahead of this start, noting to the team's official website, "It's not so much pitch selection, it's execution of that pitch and locating that pitch. That's what we've been misfiring with every now and then, but they've been in key situations."

A.J. Burnett and Garrett Jones delivered in those key situations Thursday for Pittsburgh in a 10-6 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers to avoid a four-game sweep. Burnett showed some fire after giving up a homer to Hanley Ramirez to notch his 15th win, and Jones hit a pair of three-run homers as the Pirates finished a disappointing 4-7 homestand on a positive note.

''He came out knowing what's at hand here, and to put a foot down,'' Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Burnett. ''Then the game probably added to his edge, sharpened his edge, just because the game was all over the place.''

Jones was productive over the last week of the homestand, going 10 for 24 with three home runs, three doubles and one triple with 12 RBIs the last seven games. The first baseman, though, is 2 for 13 lifetime versus Westbrook.

McDonald went 1-0 in three starts against the Cardinals last year, giving up seven runs in 16 1-3 innings, but did not receive a decision in either of his outings at Busch Stadium. He is 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in four starts and eight lifetime appearances versus St. Louis.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina will miss his third straight game because of mid-back tightness.

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