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Cervelli, Cole pace Bucs in Game 1

PITTSBURGH -- Francisco Cervelli's grand slam carried Gerrit Cole to his 19th win and temporarily kept the Cardinals' National League Central-clinching champagne on ice as the Pirates took Game 1 of Wednesday's day-night doubleheader, 8-2, at PNC Park.

The Cardinals then clinched their third straight division title with an 11-1 win over the Bucs in Game 2 of the twin bill.

Cervelli was busy between games getting his left ear checked out after he'd been struck by a foul tip early in the game, but Cole called him "the MVP of the game, regardless of the slam, but for the game he called."

Cole went seven methodical innings, allowing seven hits while striking out only two without a walk. The hits included Matt Holliday's RBI single in the fourth and Matt Carpenter's 28th homer, a sixth-inning drive that went over the right-field stands and on a bounce into the Allegheny River.

"He did some different things based on what they've seen from him in the past," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Cole's fourth start of the season against St. Louis. "It wasn't about swing and miss, it wasn't about burying guys. It was about being efficient with his pitches, getting quick outs."

Video: [email protected]: Cole pitches seven innings of two-run ball

Michael Wacha's September problems continued with a four-inning outing in which he allowed six earned runs, compared to a total of four in three previous starts against the Bucs this year. Wacha has pitched to an ERA of 7.88 in five starts this month.

"I wanted to go out there and win that first game," Wacha said. "I just didn't make the pitches when I needed to, and they made me pay for my mistakes."

Tie preserver: Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco fielded Jhonny Peralta's two-out single in the fourth and threw out Holliday. Polanco's 12th assist preserved a 1-1 tie and bailed out either first baseman Pedro Alvarez -- who made a slightly off-center throw -- or shortstop Jordy Mercer -- who appeared to shy away from the throw -- whichever was most responsible for Holliday reaching second in the first place.

"It was a very fundamental play," Cole said. "They obviously felt they had to push it there. Greg fielded the ball on one hop before Holliday even came around the [third-base] bag, made a strong throw and Francisco was in the right spot to take it and tag."

Video: [email protected]: Polanco throws out Holliday trying to score

Carpenter connects: Carpenter generated most of the Cardinals' offense against Cole. His leadoff double in the fourth gave the Cardinals their first hit, and he scored the tying run on a one-out single by Holliday. Carpenter then became the 25th player in PNC Park history to deposit a ball into the Allegheny River when he took Cole deep to open the sixth. The homer was Carpenter's team-leading 28th of the season.

Get a load of this: Even before the fourth inning, the Cardinals showed enough respect for Alvarez to walk him 12 times in 59 plate appearances this season. Walk No. 13 did not turn out well. Wacha issued Alvarez an intentional walk to load the bases for Cervelli, who unloaded them.

"This is one team that Pedro has shown up big time against, so they have a whole different lens on him than a lot of other teams, and rightfully so," said Hurdle, mindful of Alvarez's career numbers of 18 homers and 58 RBIs against the Cardinals. "The damage is real, and it's been done over time."

"That guy, for whatever reason, gets big hits," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of passing on pitching to Alvarez. "Not that the guy behind him can't, and he proved he can, too. .... I have a hard time even just pitching him tough. I just like the matchup with Cervelli and Michael better at that point."

Welcome back, Wainwright: Making his first relief appearance since the 2006 World Series, Adam Wainwright officially returned to the mound just five months after suffering a left Achilles injury that was expected to keep him out for the rest of the season. Wainwright opened his inning with a strikeout of Cervelli. A pair of two-out hits led to one run off him. The outing snapped a string of 221 consecutive regular-season starts for the veteran right-hander.
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"It felt amazing to be back out there," Wainwright said. "There was a lot of work that went into me getting back out there. I have a little tightening up to do, but other than a couple inches here or there, I'm happy where I am. My arm feels great and is recovering well."

Video: [email protected]: Waino fans Cervelli in return from DL

"It's our first must-win game of the year, so we're going to our must-win pitcher." -- Hurdle, on why he responded to Tuesday's rainout by opposing Wacha with Cole, who originally was penciled in to face Tyler Lyons in Game 3 of the series.

This win improved the Pirates' record in day games at home to 18-3; included are openers of two day-night doubleheaders, the first on Sept. 15 against the Cubs.

The Cardinals wanted to build Holliday up to play a full game before the start of postseason play, and they were able to do so on Wednesday. For the first time since reaggravating a quad injury on July 29, Holliday played a full game in the field. He went 1-for-4 with an RBI single and showed no mobility issues trying to score from second on a single, although he was thrown out at the plate.

Video: [email protected]: Holliday singles home Carpenter in the 4th

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Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for and listen to her podcast. Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast.