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Cardinals-Pirates Preview

The St. Louis Cardinals will enter the All-Star break with the best record in baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates, however, are the hottest team.

After Andrew McCutchen delivered in the clutch, the Pirates look to draw closer to the Cardinals in the NL Central by concluding this four-game series with a third straight victory Sunday night.

St. Louis (56-32) had a season-high nine-game lead on second-place Pittsburgh (52-35) after beating the Chicago Cubs on June 28.

The Pirates have won 10 of 12 to reduce that deficit to 3 1/2 games, the smallest it's been since May 24.

McCutchen kept Pittsburgh surging Saturday, connecting for a two-run walkoff homer to beat the Cardinals 6-5 in 14 innings. The homer - the five-time All-Star's second on three hits in this series - also extended his hitting streak to a career-high 18 games, during which he has a .355 average and 14 RBIs.

"We had grit all over," manager Clint Hurdle said of the Pirates rallying three times Saturday. "I'm proud, always been proud of these guys. Tonight was just another example with an exclamation point behind it.

"Grit, determination, perseverance, keep playing the game. When something doesn't go right, you keep playing the game."

Jung Ho Kang has four hits with a triple and two RBIs in two games, driving in McCutchen before scoring in a two-run eighth that forced extra innings Saturday. The rookie third baseman is 9 for 22 in six home meetings with St. Louis.

The Cardinals, losers of four of six, squandered three different leads Saturday.

''We had the lead three different times, and that's something that doesn't typically slip away,'' St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. ''But today was one of those days.'

Francisco Liriano (5-6, 2.99 ERA) gets another shot at the Cardinals after his run of solid outings against them came to an end in the most recent matchup.

After going 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA in his first 10 starts versus St. Louis - including the playoffs - the left-hander was reached for six runs and two homers over 6 1-3 innings in an 8-5 loss May 8.

Liriano has been impressive in his last three games, going 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA after allowing two runs in six innings and not figuring in the decision of Tuesday's 3-2 win over San Diego.

Jhonny Peralta is batting .327 with three homers in 49 career at-bats against Liriano, while Mark Reynolds, who homered twice Saturday, is 1 for 18 with eight strikeouts.

St. Louis is sending rookie Tim Cooney (0-0, 3.95) to the mound again in place of Jaime Garcia, who is expected to return from a left groin strain after the break.

Cooney, a Pennsylvania native, has allowed four runs in 11 1-3 innings of two starts since being recalled from Triple-A Memphis.

The left-hander yielded one run and three hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 5-3 loss to the Cubs on Tuesday.

"Tim did a real nice job and we'll give him another spot," Matheny told MLB's official website.

Randal Grichuk is 10 for 24 in his last seven games against Pittsburgh. He had three hits with a pair of doubles Saturday but his error in the eighth led to a Pittsburgh rally.

The Pirates have won four of five and 17 of the past 24 regular-season home meetings with the Cardinals.

Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong left Saturday's game an inning after being hit by a pitch in the 11th.

''His hammy had tightened up because of that hit by pitch so I had to get him out,'' Matheny said. ''It didn't seem to be anything serious; just hit him in a bad spot that's all.''

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