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Bailed it! Despite rook's error, Cards prevail

After ceding go-ahead run, St. Louis rallies to pick up DeJong, passes Milwaukee in WC standings
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

PITTSBURGH -- The Cardinals covered a blunder with a timely bailout on Friday, ensuring that an errant flip by shortstop Paul DeJong could become a teaching moment without determining the outcome of a critical late September game.

Before the Cardinals celebrated a 4-3 win over the Pirates, they watched a lead dissolve and a tailor-made double play morph into the Pirates' go-ahead run. But fitting, it seems, that a player who has come to the Cardinals' rescue by plugging a gaping hole in the lineup and filling a premium defensive position in the field got his own pick-me-up in the victory.

Full Game Coverage

PITTSBURGH -- The Cardinals covered a blunder with a timely bailout on Friday, ensuring that an errant flip by shortstop Paul DeJong could become a teaching moment without determining the outcome of a critical late September game.

Before the Cardinals celebrated a 4-3 win over the Pirates, they watched a lead dissolve and a tailor-made double play morph into the Pirates' go-ahead run. But fitting, it seems, that a player who has come to the Cardinals' rescue by plugging a gaping hole in the lineup and filling a premium defensive position in the field got his own pick-me-up in the victory.

Full Game Coverage

"Just a little blip," was how manager Mike Matheny described it afterward.

It seemed hardly so at the time, with the game tied at 2 in the bottom of the seventh and reliever Matt Bowman called in to deal with runners on the corners and one out. Matheny gambled that Bowman, with a 54.9 percent ground-ball rate on the season, could get one in such a precarious spot.

That went precisely as planned.

Video: STL@PIT: Matheny on important win over the Pirates

But the chance to turn two went awry when DeJong flipped his feed way over the head of second baseman Kolten Wong, who raced to cover second after being shifted several feet further to his left. The Cardinals didn't garner a single out, and the Pirates plated the go-ahead run.

"It was a tough play, because he hit it right at me," DeJong explained afterward. "If he hits it a step towards the bag, I step on it, turn it. If he hits it to my right, I take the out at home. He happened to hit a one-hopper right at me. I just made a bad toss. It's something you learn from, but guys picked me up tonight and we got a team win."

Matheny's preference? For DeJong to get the out at second himself and then make the throw to first.

"That's probably the one thing he hasn't had many opportunities to do, because Kolten is so quick that you almost want to give him the ball every time," Matheny added. "But that'll be one of those next-level lessons. Today was a good way to learn it, a tough way to learn it, but we want him being aggressive. Any time you're not exchanging the ball, I think you're going to be better off, especially as well as [DeJong] throws it."

Video: Must C Conclusion: Cards come back in 9th to win it

DeJong, among the National League's top rookies this season, has helped the Cardinals fortify their defense at short since taking over the position full-time in June. He entered Friday with plus-3 Defensive Runs Saved. Last year, the Cardinals ranked 22nd in the Majors with a minus-6 DRS at that position.

Bowman provided DeJong an immediate assist by retiring the next two batters in order to keep the Pirates from padding their lead. The Cardinals' offense then pushed across two ninth-inning runs to seal a comeback win that propelled them ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central and Wild Card races.

"That's baseball," DeJong said. "I made a decision and just made a bad toss. But we're going to keep playing until the last out is made."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals, Paul DeJong