Gene J. Puskar
September 28, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) The celebration the St. Louis Cardinals have been chasing all year is closer than ever.

One sobering moment on Monday night, however, provided a harsh reality check.

The Cardinals drew closer to a third straight NL Central title on Monday night with a 3-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, a triumph dimmed by a frightening collision between outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Peter Bourjos in the seventh that ended with Piscotty in the hospital.

Piscotty and Bourjos were tracking a fly ball to the gap in left-center by Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison when Bourjos' left knee slammed into a diving Piscotty's head. Bourjos made the catch while his rookie teammate lay motionless on the grass at PNC Park.

Piscotty was strapped to a backboard and carted off, his head bloodied, though he managed to raise his left hand before disappearing into a tunnel. The Cardinals said tests on Piscotty were negative. He was expected to remain in the hospital overnight for observation.

''It puts a lot of things in perspective,'' Bourjos said. ''The game at that point for me didn't seem all that important. It was just making sure Stephen was all right and hopefully he is OK.''

St. Louis recovered in time to reduce its magic number to clinch a third straight NL Central title to two after getting to Pittsburgh closer Mark Melancon (3-2). The Cardinals can wrap up the division crown with a win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

Matt Carpenter singled with one out in the ninth and scored all the way from first to break a scoreless tie when Pittsburgh right fielder Gregory Polanco overran Jon Jay's hit and center fielder Andrew McCutchen couldn't pick the ball up cleanly.

Reynolds then drilled his 12th homer of the year to give closer Trevor Rosenthal some cushion for his 48th save. Jonathan Broxton (4-5) earned the win on a night the Pirates crowded the basepaths but never crossed home plate.

''I don't know if there's a game that would define it more than this one all season,'' St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. ''We had our backs against the wall every single inning, a lot of it self-induced.

Pittsburgh, already assured of at least a wild-card berth, left 16 runners on base while falling four games behind the Cardinals with five to go.

''We(couldn't) care less what the number is,'' Harrison said. ''Season ain't over until it's over. We're going to wipe this one off. It's a tough loss but hey, we've got another one tomorrow against them.''

It's one the Pirates want to win to prevent the Cardinals from popping champagne in the visitor's clubhouse at PNC Park. St. Louis' victory took some of the buzz out of one of the most anticipated regular-season series in Pittsburgh since the park opened in 2001.

The Pirates have been relentlessly chasing the Cardinals for five months and began the final week of the regular season with a chance to catch their rivals if they could sweep a three-game series at home in a matchup of the teams with the two best records in the majors.

Instead, St. Louis did what it has done all year, relying on its pitching and just enough hitting to keep Pittsburgh at bay.

The Cardinals survived on a night they issued 10 walks. Pittsburgh put runners on base in every inning except the first, but none could find their way home on a night the Pirates went 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position, including 0 for 3 in the ninth with the tying run at the plate.

''We were getting on base, but baseball's a funny game,'' Harrison said. ''You've got to cash in when you get those opportunities, and we fell up short.''

St. Louis starter Lance Lynn labored his way through five scoreless innings, most of them out of the stretch while the Pirates kept wasting opportunities to take control. Starling Marte was nailed at the plate to end the second while trying to score on a shallow fly to center by Jordy Mercer - Jason Heyward's throw beat the speedy Marte by three steps.

Marte then struck out with the bases loaded to end the third. Polanco led off the fifth with a double only to run into an out at third on a chopper to shortstop by Josh Harrison. Lynn needed 96 pitches to retire 15 batters, walking four with six strikeouts.

Pittsburgh starter J.A. Happ, a revelation since being acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline from Seattle, was decidedly more efficient. The lefthander allowed only Kolten Wong's single leading off the third.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cardinals: C Yadier Molina's injured left thumb will keep him out for the rest of the regular season. Molina, who suffered a slight ligament tear in the thumb on Sept. 20, met with a hand specialist on Monday and will be given at least a week off before being re-evaluated. ... RHP Adam Wainwright, who tore his left Achilles tendon in April, could be ready to work out of the bullpen as early as Wednesday.

UP NEXT

St. Louis can wrap up the division on Tuesday when Michael Wacha (17-6, 3.15) faces Pittsburgh's Charlie Morton (9-8, 4.54). Wacha is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in six games against the Pirates. Morton is 2-11 in his career against the Cardinals, his last victory coming on April 4, 2011.

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