By Will Graves
Pirates 5, Cardinals 3
PITTSBURGH: Pinch-runner Josh Harrison stood on second base in the bottom of the eighth inning and pointed to Pittsburgh Pirates third-base coach Nick Leyva.
“I told him to get that arm ready, because I’m coming,” Harrison said.
Moments later, Harrison was streaking across home plate to give the Pirates the lead. Minutes after that, the Jolly Roger that’s been a fixture on the Pittsburgh skyline all summer climbed up the flagpole again.
Harrison scored on Pedro Alvarez’s tiebreaking single Sunday, sending the Pirates to a 5-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that staked Pittsburgh to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five NL Division Series.
Russell Martin followed with a sharp RBI single against reliever Kevin Siegrist, who took over after Carlos Martinez (0-1) faltered.
The go-ahead single was the latest big hit by Alvarez. He homered in the first two games against St. Louis and is 4-for-10 with four RBI in the series.
Alvarez also kept the Pirates’ famous flag flying high in October. “Raise the Jolly Roger!” is the rallying cry for this wild-card team, now one victory from its first postseason series win since Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and the “We Are Family” gang won it all in 1979.
“We’re continuing to surprise a lot of people, I believe. We’re continuing to show people that we’re not done, that we’re not just happy to be in the postseason,” star center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “We’re fighting to win a World Series.”
Heady territory for a franchise that had endured a record 20 consecutive years of losing coming into this season. Six months later, the Pirates are on the cusp of knocking out baseball royalty.
Mark Melancon (1-0) picked up the win despite allowing Carlos Beltran’s tying home run in the top of the eighth. Jason Grilli worked the ninth for a save.
Charlie Morton is set to start for Pittsburgh in Game 4 on Monday against rookie Michael Wacha.
Beltran finished 2-for-3 with three RBI. His 16th playoff home run moved him past Babe Ruth for eighth place in postseason history.
“It’s a must-win tomorrow for us,” Beltran said. “Hopefully we can come here tomorrow, take care of business, win and go play the last game at home.”
Beltran’s shot temporarily silenced a rocking crowd at PNC Park. It also set the stage for another dramatic win by the Pirates.
McCutchen led off the eighth with his second hit, a double to left. But the NL MVP candidate unwisely tried to advance on Justin Morneau’s grounder to shortstop and was an easy out at third.
Harrison ran for Morneau and moved up when Marlon Byrd walked. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny turned to a lefty in Siegrist to face the left-handed Alvarez. The Pittsburgh slugger tied for the NL lead with 36 homers during the regular season, but hit just .180 against lefties.
“I just knew it was going to be a tough matchup,” Alvarez said. “I’ve seen him a couple of times before. I haven’t had much success. He’s a pitcher with good stuff — great stuff. He threw me a couple of fastballs out over the plate.”
One too many, as it turned out, and Alvarez singled between first and second. Martin then fouled off a squeeze bunt before lining a hit to left that gave Grilli more than enough cushion.
The game was a rare nail-biter between two clubs that spent the summer shadowing each other in the race for the NL Central title. Coming into Sunday, only five of the previous 21 matchups between the two were decided by two runs or less.
After blowouts by each club in St. Louis, there wasn’t much room to breathe in front of a frenzied, black-clad crowd looking for a repeat of Pittsburgh’s giddy 6-2 romp over Cincinnati in the wild-card game last Tuesday.
Martin’s sacrifice fly off reliever Seth Maness in the sixth gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead and turned the game over to Pittsburgh’s “Shark Tank” bullpen, one of the keys to the franchise’s first winning season and playoff berth in a generation.
Tony Watson worked around a one-out single in the seventh before giving way to Melancon.
The Cardinals must win two straight to advance to the NL Championship Series for the third straight year.
Pirates starter Francisco Liriano dominated the Cardinals during the regular season, going 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA in three starts against St. Louis.
Dodgers 13, Braves 6
LOS ANGELES: Carl Crawford hit a three-run homer, Juan Uribe added a two-run shot and the Los Angeles Dodgers routed the Atlanta Braves 13-6 on Sunday night for a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five NL division series.
Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig each had three hits and scored three times on a big night at the plate for the Dodgers, who matched a franchise record for runs in a postseason game. Brooklyn beat the New York Yankees 13-8 in Game 2 of the 1956 World Series.
Los Angeles can advance to the NL championship series with a victory at home in Game 4 tonight. Ricky Nolasco pitches for the Dodgers against veteran Freddy Garcia.