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By John Perrotto, The Sports Xchange July 31, 2013 11:50 PM
Neil Walker has often been said to play baseball with a football-type mentality.PITTSBURGH --
That is only fitting since the Pirates' second baseman was an all-state wide receiver and safety during his high school days in Pittsburgh's northern suburbs. Walker used that aggressiveness Wednesday night to help the Pirates beat the St. Louis Cardinals for the fourth time in three days. Walker tagged up from first base on a fly-out to get in scoring position in the eighth inning, and Russell Martin singled him in to lift the Pirates to a 5-4 victory at PNC Park. "We play in a big ballpark, especially in left field and the North Side Notch (the 410-foot mark in left-center), and we've always stressed the importance of trying to take advantage of that by being aggressive on the bases," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Sometimes Neil can be a little too aggressive, but that was a good baseball play." The Pirates have been playing the game exceeding well in recent days, winning the first four games of the five-game series between the top two teams in the National League. They have taken a 2 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central. Pittsburgh won for the ninth time in its past 12 games and improved to 36-18 at home, the best record in the major leagues. St. Louis lost for the seventh straight time -- its longest skid of the season. With the scored tied 4-4, Walker led off the eighth with a single off Trevor Rosenthal (1-2). After Andrew McCutchen flied out, Walker advanced to second when Pedro Alvarez flied out to the warning track in left field. "There are a lot of times on balls like that, ones that look like they might be home runs, that you can go from first to second and get that extra base," Walker said. "When you're playing a team like the Cardinals, every out counts, every base counts. You have to take advantage any time you can." Walker scored on Martin's hit to center. Walker, the popular Pittsburgh native, received a standing ovation when he walked out to his second base position for the start of the ninth inning. Walker also homered, and he was one of four Pirates with two hits, along with Martin, Garrett Jones and Clint Barmes. Holliday had three hits and two RBIs for the Cardinals, while Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran, Daniel Descalso and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright had two hits apiece. Tony Watson (3-1) pitched two scoreless innings for the win, and Mark Melancon worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his fifth save. Pirates starter Jeff Locke lasted just four innings in his shortest start of the season. He gave up four runs and 10 hits with one walk and six strikeouts, ending a streak of eight starts in which he had allowed three earned runs or fewer. "I kept getting ahead of hitters but I couldn't put them away," Locke said. Wainwright pitched seven innings for the Cardinals but did not factor in the decision. He gave up four runs and eight hits while striking out six and walking one. "I'm just real frustrated that the offense did a great job going up there against an All-Star pitcher, scoring four runs, getting 10 hits, got him out of there early and gave me the lead three times, and I blew the save three times. I can be better than that. I will be better than that. I'm not saying I let the team down, but they deserve better than that." After being held scoreless in the last 17 innings of Tuesday night's doubleheader, which Pittsburgh swept, St. Louis scored twice in the first inning Wednesday. Consecutive one-out singles by Beltran, Allen Craig and Holliday produced the first run, and Descalso hit an RBI single in the second. Craig broke a 0-for-22 skid, and Descalso, starting at second base for slumping Matt Carpenter, had been hitless in his previous 16 at-bats. Carpenter was in a 2-for-24 funk. "We had good life, came out with a real good approach, stayed with it, had some opportunities and scored a few runs," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Usually when you have Waino on the mound that's going to be enough, but there's days we've got to score more." Alvarez hit an RBI single for the Pirates in the bottom of the first. After Tony Cruz drove in a run for the Cardinals in the top of the third, Walker hit his seventh home run of the season in the bottom of the inning to draw Pittsburgh within 3-2. Both teams scored one run in the fourth inning. Beltran doubled and scored on Holliday's single for the Cardinals, and Barmes hit an RBI double for the Pirates. Pittsburgh pulled into a 4-4 tie in the fifth on McCutchen's sacrifice fly. "We kept answering and that's important, especially with a pitcher like Wainwright on the mound," Walker said. NOTES: St. Louis placed C Yadier Molina (sprained right knee) and OF Shane Robinson (strained right shoulder) on the 15-day disabled list, recalled 1B/OF Brock Peterson and OF Adron Chambers from Memphis and optioned LHP Tyler Lyons to the Redbirds. Molina underwent an MRI exam Wednesday that revealed no structural damage and is optimistic he can return once his 15 days are up. Lyons had been recalled from Memphis to start the second game of Tuesday night's doubleheader. ... Pittsburgh C Michael McKenry underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn lateral meniscus tear in his left knee, the Pirates announced Wednesday. Rookie C Tony Sanchez will serve as the backup to C Russell Martin. ... The Pirates optioned RHP Brandon Cumpton back to Triple-A Indianapolis after he notched his first major-league win in Tuesday night's second game. They released INF/OF Brandon Inge, who had been designated for assignment last week. ... The five-game series concludes Thursday night when Cardinals RHP Joe Kelly (1-3, 3.44) faces Pittsburgh RHP Charlie Morton (3-2, 3.59).