ST. LOUIS (AP) All season, the St. Louis Cardinals have tried to minimize the innings load for Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, saving their two young pitchers for the postseason.
During a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night, manager Mike Matheny said the 23-year-old Martinez was simply too good to take out early. In the eighth inning, he judged ''awkward swings'' from the Pirates.
''The potential win supersedes anything we have in place right now,'' Matheny said. ''Right then we needed our best pitcher, and to me he was the best pitcher we had for that situation, and I think he proved that.''
Yadier Molina tied it with a sacrifice fly and rookie Stephen Piscotty singled in the go-ahead run on consecutive at-bats off Jeff Locke (6-7) in the fifth inning. Kolten Wong singled twice for his first multihit game of the month and Piscotty had three hits.
Trevor Rosenthal struck out the side in the ninth for his 34th save in 36 chances. The Cardinals lead the Pirates by six games in the NL Central and are 6-5 in the season series with seven of the games decided by one run and five in the final at-bat.
''Carlos did what our pitching's known for,'' Wong said of the right-hander. ''We're facing some good pitching on that side and they're going to face our best pitching. It's exciting.''
Or excruciating, depending on your perspective.
''These guys are where they're at because they play good solid baseball every night,'' Locke said. ''Very similar to the way we play every night.
''That's our motto here, one more than the other team.''
Jason Heyward had two hits and two RBIs. St. Louis is 72-40 overall, at 32 over .500 it matches the season's high water mark, and 41-16 at home - both major league bests.
Pedro Alvarez homered on a drive estimated at 446 feet that put the Pirates up 3-2 in the fourth. Aramis Ramirez earned his 145th career RBI against St. Louis, most against the Cardinals among active players, and Gregory Polanco had three hits.
Martinez (12-4) began the game throwing more off-speed stuff than usual and gave up single runs in the first, third and fourth but kept it close for a breakthrough three-run fifth that began with consecutive walks to Wong and Jhonny Peralta. He matched his career high for innings, striking out eight with one walk, and allowed one runner in scoring position his last three innings.
''Before the eighth, Mike asked me how I felt, `Could I go one more inning?''' Martinez said through an interpreter. ''I said, `Yeah, I'm ready to go.'''
Pirates reliever Jared Hughes stayed in the game after deflecting a line drive by Piscotty with his glove that glanced off his cheek in the eighth. ''I'll never watch that replay,'' Hughes said, adding that he thought anyone who watched it was certain it was ''bad.''
The opener drew a paid attendance of 41,273, an impressive number until you consider it's the Cardinals' lowest-paid gate in 24 games since the Minnesota Twins attracted 41,203 on June 16. School begins this week for many area schools.
GAME OF INCHES
Heyward beat out the relay for an RBI groundout after the Cardinals appealed and got a double-play call overturned in the first. He mistimed his leap on Polanco's drive off the top of the wall in right field on a leadoff triple in the third.
Pirates: 3B Josh Harrison (broken left thumb) and SS Jordy Mercer (left knee MCL sprain) began rehab assignments Tuesday at Triple-A Indianapolis. Manager Clint Hurdle is hopeful both will rejoin the team ''considerably before Sept. 1.''
Cardinals: OF Jon Jay (wrist) and 1B Matt Adams (quad) are taking swings but are not close to rehab assignments. GM John Mozeliak debunked the notion RHP Adam Wainwright (Achilles) could return this season.
Wednesday's game has a marquee pitching matchup. Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole (14-5, 2.39) leads the NL in wins and Cardinals RHP Michael Wacha (13-4, 2.92) is right behind. Cole is 0-3 with a 5.95 ERA in four starts against the Cardinals and 14-2 with a 1.82 ERA in his other 18 starts.