Pineiro, Cardinals play spoiler

Pineiro, Cardinals play spoiler

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals made sure Joel Pineiro had ample reason to celebrate on his 30th birthday.

For the first time in his professional career, Pineiro spent a birthday afternoon on the pitching mound Thursday, and he walked away with a 12-3 victory over the Diamondbacks. Pineiro did his part with three-hit pitching over seven innings, and the offense sprang into action late with a combined nine runs from the sixth through the eighth innings.

The victory for Pineiro enabled him to finish his season 7-7 with a 5.15 earned run average.

"So-so," Pineiro said. "The record says it at 7-7. Kind of a high ERA. I wish it was lower, but sometimes you have a couple of starts where it rises and it's kind of tough to put it back down. You finish on a good note and try to come back strong next year."

From Albert Pujols' power to Cesar Izturis' speed, the Cardinals had a lot of things going in support of Pineiro. But halfway through a game that eliminated Arizona from playoff contention, St. Louis was locked in a 3-3 tie after being unable to score with a bases-loaded, nobody-out opportunity in the fifth.

The Cardinals kept up the pressure in the sixth when Izturis drew a leadoff walk, stole second and advanced to third on Brian Barton's bunt single. Felipe Lopez popped out, but Pujols was able to deliver a sacrifice fly. The ball wasn't hit particularly deep and only the speed of Izturis made it a 4-3 game.

Once they got the lead, the Cardinals put it in another gear and roared away, taking Arizona's playoff hopes with them. Ryan Ludwick and Aaron Miles followed with run-scoring singles shortly thereafter and a three-run homer by Pujols in the seventh made it 9-3.

Pineiro's win was his first at Busch Stadium since Aug. 6.

"It showed what he is capable of doing," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He had a lot of movement to both sides of the plate with different pitches. He fielded his position and was tough on their running staff. He had the complete package."

After dropping the first game of the series to fall to four games over .500, the Cardinals made the Dodgers happy by defeating Arizona in three straight. The Cardinals took no delight in playing the spoiler role. Their mission is simply winning as many games as they can the rest of the way so that their final record reflects how competitive they were in the playoff chase until encountering a September swoon.

"It had nothing to do with Arizona," La Russa said. "We had an obligation to play like we've been playing all year. We have a lot of respect for them and the way they go about it. Actually, it's not enjoyable at all, but you've got to compete."

The Cardinals never really put the pedal to the metal against Arizona starter Doug Davis, but they did enough to get the veteran lefty out of the game after four innings plus two batters. Davis walked five, allowed seven hits and was saved in the fifth when reliever Leo Rosales came on and bailed the Diamondbacks out after the first two had reached.

St. Louis, which finished with 17 hits, got to the D-backs' bullpen in the following inning and the Cards were on their way to an 83rd win, which was the number they had in 2006 before going on to a World Series title.

With a 3-for-3 day, Pujols lifted his batting average to .353. It appears he'll finish second to Atlanta's Chipper Jones in the NL batting race.

"Whatever he winds up with, [Pujols] has had a monster season," La Russa said.

Izturis also was 3-for-3 with a walk and a sacrifice in the series finale. Besides the 17 hits, the Cardinals drew nine walks. They'll try to keep it going over the weekend when Cincinnati rolls into town for a three-game series that ends the season.

Pineiro can sit and watch, content in the knowledge that he finished strong. It has been quite a week for Pineiro, who recently became the father of twin boys Adrian and Fabian.

"My birthday present was my kids being born," Pineiro said. "This just puts the icing on the cake."

Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.