Pirates-Cardinals Preview

The Associated Press

Yadier Molina's return to the lineup boosted the St. Louis Cardinals to a huge victory. They hope the return of a key pitcher can send them even higher.

Jaime Garcia makes his first start in more than two months in Sunday's series finale as the Cardinals try to pull even with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL's second wild card.

Molina returned Saturday after missing three games with a sore back, and had three hits and two RBIs to lead the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory. St. Louis closed within one game of the Pirates (66-54), who lost for the seventh time in 10 games.

"It feels so good," said Molina, who indicated his back was not bothering him after the game. "I was waiting for this moment the last three days. It's good to be back, it's good to get the win."

St. Louis (65-55) broke through Saturday for 11 hits, one more than the club totaled while losing its previous two games by identical 2-1 scores. Shane Robinson had two hits and two RBIs and Rafael Furcal scored twice, but it was Molina who led the way with a go-ahead two-run double in the fifth inning.

"Not just his presence but his production," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's great to have Yadi back."

The Cardinals are hoping for a similar boost from Garcia (3-4, 4.48 ERA), who has been sidelined since June 5 due to shoulder fatigue. The left-hander was roughed up in his final two starts – giving up 10 runs over eight innings – before going on the disabled list.

He's made four appearances – two starts – against Pittsburgh in his career, going 1-1 with a 1.08 ERA.

Garcia will try to shake off any rust against a Pirates lineup that struck out 14 times in Saturday's loss. Not only was their lead over the Cardinals in the wild-card standings trimmed, but they also lost ground in the NL Central as front-running Cincinnati split a doubleheader with the Cubs.

"We're going to play the game to win it," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're not going to be afraid to make a mistake or play on our heels."

In addition to the strikeouts, Pittsburgh went 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position. Andrew McCutchen finished 0 for 5 on the day though he did have an RBI, and cleanup hitter Garrett Jones was 1 for 4 including a strikeout with the bases loaded in the ninth inning.

Jeff Karstens (4-3, 3.91) takes the mound for the Pirates in the series finale. The right-hander beat the Cardinals in St. Louis on June 30, allowing two runs and four hits in seven innings to improve to 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA in eight career games against them.

Karstens saw his four-decision winning streak snapped Monday, when he yielded four runs over seven innings of a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

These teams will conclude their season series with three games in Pittsburgh starting August 27.

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