Since Pineiro's last win, April 29 against the Reds, he'd pitched well enough to record a victory in easily five of his nine starts. And in fact, in that span he only took two losses, a clear indicator that he wasn't getting blown out.
Still, Tuesday didn't figure to be the night he got off the schneid. With the exception of Cy Young winners Johan Santana and CC Sabathia, there's no better southpaw in the National League than Hamels. And the Phils' claustrophobia-inducing ballpark certainly magnifies the challenge.
Yet Pineiro was up to it -- and then some.
He escaped from a perilous second-inning jam before cruising through the next four innings. He finished allowing five hits and three walks to go with three strikeouts for a team that badly needed a victory, in a ballpark where things haven't always been too peachy for St. Louis.
"Once you get on the mound, it's just go to work," Pineiro said. "You obviously know that if you make a mistake, there's a good chance of them getting the ball up. But thank God it's one of those days I had a good sinker."
He put that sinker to its best use in the second. Ryan Howard singled and Pat Burrell doubled, putting men on second and third with no outs. Pineiro struck out Jayson Werth, walked Pedro Feliz and induced a double-play ball from Carlos Ruiz.
"I got a big strikeout on Werth, and kind of pitched around a little with Feliz," Pineiro said. "Got a good candidate for a double play in Ruiz, and it's just one of those days it worked out perfectly."
Numerous Cardinals referred to the Houdini act as the game's turning point.
Three innings later, Rick Ankiel gave Pineiro's work some support. He drilled a pitch from Hamels for his 19th home run of the year and ninth in his last 18 games. Ryan Ludwick, also heating up after something of a June swoon, added a solo shot in the sixth to finish the scoring.
"I don't think I made two bad pitches," Hamels said. "I think I just made one. The one of them to Ankiel, the way he hit it was very impressive. I guess that's why he's a hitter now. I made a good pitch out and away, and he absolutely crushed it. I couldn't do anything about it."
The Cardinals ran themselves out of a developing inning in the eighth, and raised the ire of Philadelphia fans as well. With one out and Chris Duncan on third base, Cesar Izturis lifted a fly ball to right field, not especially deep. Duncan took off for home, and Werth's throw beat him easily. Duncan barreled into catcher Chris Coste, his knee striking Coste in the shoulder, but was still tagged out to end the inning. Duncan explained that with Coste laying down in front of the plate, he had nowhere else to go, and Coste had no qualms with the slide.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals pitching staff still had to make the two runs stand up. Pineiro allowed two of the first three runners to reach base in the seventh before he was pulled. Ron Villone got a critical double play before Kyle McClellan pitched a spotless eighth. Ryan Franklin allowed a single and a scary deep fly ball in the ninth, but finished it off for the save.
"All the credit tonight needs to go to Joel and the pitching staff," Ludwick said.