ST. LOUIS — Michael Wacha is glad he’s graduated to a pennant race.
After finishing his college career at Texas A&M just over a year ago, the rookie pitched seven shutout innings and drove in two runs as the St. Louis Cardinals routed the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-2 Sunday for a three-game sweep.
The Cardinals outscored Pittsburgh 26-10 overall in taking the NL Central lead.
“It helped me going to A&M and playing in those big-time games and I guess gets me prepared for it,” Wacha said. “So I just try not to think too much. I go out there and try to go out there and just trust myself. It ended up working out pretty well.”
The Pirates arrived at Busch Stadium this weekend with a 1½-game division lead and a chance to cement their first winning season since 1992. They left trailing the Cardinals by 1½ games and still stuck on 81 victories.
This was the last time this season Pittsburgh and St. Louis were scheduled to play.
Wacha (3-0) allowed two hits and walked two, both of which were erased on double plays. He struck out two and never had more than one runner on at a time.
Wacha hasn’t allowed a run in 19 2-3 consecutive innings.
“A young pitcher coming in and just staying within himself, really establishing the strike zone early,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “It seemed like he made some really good pitches as he got deeper into the game. He’s just making pitches all day. It’s impressive.”
Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton (7-4) left with discomfort in his left foot in the second inning. He allowed five runs on six hits and two walks in 1 2-3 innings.
Morton left for Pittsburgh before the game was over and won’t join the team in Texas where it starts a three-game series Monday.
Manager Clint Hurdle said he didn’t know the extent of Morton’s injury. Hurdle said Morton was hurt when he was backing up a base.
“We weren’t sharp in any particular area of the game all weekend,” Hurdle said. “They were much sharper than us across the board. It’s very difficult to win a game when you are not functioning.”
Morton hadn’t surrendered more than two runs since the Cardinals tagged him for five in a 13-0 victory on Aug. 1 in Pittsburgh. He went on to win his next three decisions over five starts, including a no-decision after giving up two runs in seven innings on Aug. 13 at St. Louis.
Wacha got his second career hit with a single up the middle on the first pitch he saw from Vin Mazzaro in a four-run fifth that scored David Freese and Matt Adams. St. Louis used 10 batters in the 28-minute inning — exactly how long Wacha needed to get through six innings of pitching.
“That was a lot of fun,” Wacha said of his hit. “I told myself that I was going to hop on the first heater. I was able to sneak it by the shortstop up the middle. I was pretty fired up about that.”
PHILLIES 3, BRAVES 2
PHILADELPHIA — Darin Ruf hit a tiebreaking solo homer in the eighth inning to back a strong outing by starting pitcher Cole Hamels and lift the Phillies to a victory and three-game sweep over the Braves.
Hamels (7-13) gave up just two hits, both homers, and two runs over eight innings. He struck out nine and walked two. He retired the side in order four times.
GIANTS 3, D-DBACKS 2 (11)
SAN FRANCISCO — Angel Pagan singled home the winning run in the 11th inning to lead the Giants past the Diamondbacks.
Pagan singled sharply off Joe Thatcher (3-2) after Hector Sanchez singled and Gregor Blanco reached safely on a fielder’s choice. Pinch runner Ehire Adrianza beat the throw home.
PADRES 5, ROCKIES 2
SAN DIEGO — Pinch-hitter Nick Hundley delivered a three-run double in the seventh inning that lifted the Padres to a win over the Rockies.
BREWERS 3, CUBS 1
CHICAGO — Yovani Gallardo tossed seven strong innings and Jeff Bianchi delivered a key pinch-hit single, leading the Brewers over the Cubs.
Gallardo (11-9) allowed one run and three hits. He is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in five starts since coming back from a hamstring injury that put him on the disabled list.
NATIONALS 6, MARLINS 4
MIAMI — Stephen Strasburg got past a shaky start and pitched six innings to earn his first victory in nearly a month as the Nationals beat the Marlins.
Strasburg (7-9) struck out seven and allowed four runs and four hits. He also hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and had two balks. It was his first win since Aug. 11 against Philadelphia.
WHITE SOX 4, O’s 2
BALTIMORE — Pinch-runner Chris Dickerson got lost on the bases and was doubled up for the final out, and the Chicago White Sox ended a nine-game losing streak by holding off the Baltimore Orioles.
Down 4-1, Baltimore loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth against Addison Reed. After Ryan Flaherty grounded into a forceout at second base that scored a run, Dickerson ran for him.
Dickerson tried to steal second on a pitch to Brian Roberts, who hit a foul pop near first base. Dickerson didn’t know where the ball went, and the baserunning blunder made him an easy out at first.
YANKEES 4, RED SOX 3
NEW YORK — Ichiro Suzuki scored on Brandon Workman’s wild pitch with two outs in the ninth inning, and the New York Yankees overcame Mariano Rivera’s blown save to avoid a four-game sweep by Boston.
Rivera (5-2) came in to start the eighth for the first time since 2006. Will Middlebrooks’ leadoff homer in the ninth gave Rivera his seventh blown save in 48 chances.
Suzuki hit a one-out single off Workman (5-3) in the bottom half, stole second and advanced to third on Vernon Wells’ fly to right.
Workman then threw a high pitch that deflected off the mitt of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and caromed away off the backstop, allowing Suzuki to score easily.
RAYS 4, MARINERS 1
SEATTLE — Pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez had a go-ahead single in the eighth inning and the Tampa Bay Rays rallied past Seattle to build their wild-card edge.
The Rays lead Baltimore and Cleveland, who both lost, by two games for the second AL wild-card spot.
ROYALS 5, TIGERS 2
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bruce Chen picked up Kansas City’s beleaguered starters with seven solid innings and the Royals defeated Detroit.
Eric Hosmer hit a three-run homer off Doug Fister (12-8).
ATHLETICS 7, ASTROS 2
OAKLAND, Calif. — Bartolo Colon won for the first time in more than a month, Seth Smith homered during a seven-run third inning and the Oakland Athletics beat Houston.
Colon (15-6) allowed one run and five hits in six innings for his first victory since July 26. The 40-year-old struck out seven and walked one, ending his five-game winless streak.
RANGERS 4, ANGELS 3
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Alex Rios homered in the first inning and drove in the go-ahead run with a bloop double in the seventh, Elvis Andrus also had two RBIs, and the Texas Rangers beat the Los Angeles Angels.
BLUE JAYS 2, TWINS 0
MINNEAPOLIS — Esmil Rogers pitched well into the eighth inning and Jose Reyes’ late double broke a scoreless tie that led the Toronto Blue Jays past Minnesota for a three-game sweep.
METS 2, INDIANS 1
CLEVELAND — Eric Young’s two-out double in the ninth inning gave the New York Mets a victory that ended Cleveland’s four-game winning streak.