ST. LOUIS -- It will all come down to Game 162 for the Cardinals, who, with a 4-3, come-from-behind win over the Pirates at Busch Stadium, staved off potential Wild Card elimination on Saturday and set the stage for Adam Wainwright to possibly extend the season for another day.
With the Giants' victory over the Dodgers on Saturday, St. Louis enters Sunday one game behind San Francisco for the second National League Wild Card spot. If the two teams were to finish with the same record, a tiebreaker game would be played in St. Louis on Monday. The Mets have already sealed their place as the host for next Wednesday's Wild Card Game.
"This is what we live for as competitors: the big games," said Wainwright. "I knew it would come down to the last day -- it always does."
Jedd Gyorko delivered the game-winning hit with his two-out, eighth-inning home run. It was his third home run in as many games and sealed the first 30-homer season by a Cardinal since 2012. The blast set the Cardinals up to claim their 22nd victory this season in games where they entered the eighth inning tied or trailing.
"We know we can always come back with the lineup we have and the ability to put runs on the board quickly," Gyorko said. "These are exciting games, there's no doubt about that. To be in a must-win situation, it's fun to be out there."
With a hole in their rotation, the Cardinals were uncertain about how they'd cobble together nine innings of coverage. They turned first to Michael Wacha, and then quickly to their bullpen after Wacha served up a three-run homer to Jung Ho Kang in the opening frame.
Manager Mike Matheny's afternoon of reliever roulette began with Miguel Socolovich and ended with Seung Hwan Oh stranding two to collect his 19th save. Six Cardinals relievers combined to strike out 12, while allowing five hits over eight scoreless innings.
"We couldn't scratch anything against their bullpen," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "They ran the gauntlet on us. They pitched well."
That bought time for the Cardinals' offense to peck away. St. Louis erased the three-run hole in the sixth, which opened with hits from Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Moss. A wild pitch scored one, an RBI single by pinch-hitter Matt Holliday plated another and Matt Carpenter's sacrifice fly evened the game.
"I think this whole series, a lot of us treated it as a playoff series," Cardinals outfielder Stephen Piscotty said. "We showed we can do it in these first two, and we're going to do it again tomorrow."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED An encore performance: Holliday was ready to make Friday's farewell at-bat his last. But the Cardinals had other ideas. Matheny summoned Holliday with runners on the corners and one out in the sixth. Holliday poked an RBI single to right field, and the Cardinals went on to score three runs in the frame. Before this series, Holliday had zero pinch-hit RBIs in 1,770 career games. Now, he has two in two days.
"It came down to the middle of the game and just letting him know that he was the guy we'd like to see up there in a big situation," Matheny said. "He responded by running to the clubhouse and getting his stuff and getting loose. … And part of the conversation was, 'Hey, last night was special, but I'm not saying we can't do a follow-up here.'"
The Kang Show: Third baseman Kang continued to torment the Cardinals pitching staff, lining a three-run homer into the Bucs bullpen off Wacha in the first inning. In 14 games against the Cards this season, Kang has hit six homers and driven in 14 runs. The three-run shot was his 21st of the year, a surprisingly high number considering Kang missed the first month of the season and struggled through much of the summer.
"He's swung the bat very well against St. Louis," Hurdle said. "Kang has swung the bat very aggressively with power against that staff."
Stretched out: On a day when the Cardinals were desperate for innings coverage, Trevor Rosenthal gave them three scoreless frames. He threw a career-most 52 pitches while tying his career high in innings pitched. Rosenthal put a bow tie on his outing by getting Sean Rodriguez to pop out with two on and two out in the fifth.
"I was going to go as long as they were going to let me," Rosenthal said. "Yeah, I think everybody had that sense of, 'You know what, let's do whatever we can to fight tooth and nail.'" More >
Strike three? Pirates setup man Felipe Rivero thought he struck out Gyorko before he ripped the game-winning homer to right. Rivero fell behind Gyorko, 2-0, then Gyorko fouled off three straight fastballs -- all 99 or 100 mph -- to even the count. Then Rivero delivered a slider that appeared to be within the strike zone when Gyorko let it pass. Rivero began walking toward the dugout, only to see home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez had called it a ball.
"For me, it was in the zone. I don't know about him," Rivero said. "I think I threw a pretty good pitch in there. I can't control that."
Gyorko fouled off two more fastballs then blasted a 100-mph heater to right.
"I think he had strike three. Sometimes they don't get called," Hurdle said. "I think that was a situation where that happened." More >
"Everybody has been used to me beating them up, so I'm pretty sure they're going to be prepared tomorrow for whatever we have to do." -- Matheny, on the shape of his bullpen for Sunday
"I try not to worry about underlying messages and things like that. You focus on the hitter when a guy steps in there. You're not really thinking about, 'Oh, they need a win.' I'm thinking about one hitter at a time. You remove yourself from what's going on and try to get out the hitter."-- Pirates starter Chad Kuhl, who was charged with two runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out five in five-plus innings
The umpires initiated a crew-chief review of Aledmys Diaz's first-inning double to ensure that it did not hit above the wall in left field. After a one-minute and 48-second review, the call stood. Diaz was left stranded on base.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong will start the Pirates' season finale Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium. After coming off the disabled list and making five strong starts in August, Vogelsong has struggled, posting an 8.78 ERA over his past six outings. For the first time since 2012, the final day of the regular season will mark the end of the Bucs' year.
Cardinals: The Cardinals will close out the regular season behind Wainwright, who will be making his 33rd start of the season. Wainwright is 2-1 with a 4.07 ERA in four starts against Pittsburgh this season.