ST. LOUIS (AP) — Michael Wacha is glad he’s graduated to a pennant race.
After finishing his college career at Texas A&M just over a year ago, the rookie pitched seven shutout innings and drove in two runs as the St. Louis Cardinals routed the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-2 Sunday for a three-game sweep.
The Cardinals outscored Pittsburgh 26-10 overall in taking the NL Central lead.
“It helped me going to A&M and playing in those big-time games and I guess gets me prepared for it,” Wacha said. “So I just try not to think too much. I go out there and try to go out there and just trust myself. It ended up working out pretty well.”
The Pirates arrived at Busch Stadium this weekend with a 1½-game division lead and a chance to cement their first winning season since 1992. They left trailing the Cardinals by 1½ games and still stuck on 81 victories.
This was the last time this season Pittsburgh and St. Louis were scheduled to play.
Wacha (3-0) allowed two hits and walked two, both of which were erased on double plays. He struck out two and never had more than one runner on at a time.
Wacha hasn’t allowed a run in 19 2-3 consecutive innings.
“A young pitcher coming in and just staying within himself, really establishing the strike zone early,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “It seemed like he made some really good pitches as he got deeper into the game. He’s just making pitches all day. It’s impressive.”
Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton (7-4) left with discomfort in his left foot in the second inning. He allowed five runs on six hits and two walks in 1 2-3 innings.
Morton left for Pittsburgh before the game was over and won’t join the team in Texas where it starts a three-game series Monday.
Manager Clint Hurdle said he didn’t know the extent of Morton’s injury. Hurdle said Morton was hurt when he was backing up a base.
“We weren’t sharp in any particular area of the game all weekend,” Hurdle said. “They were much sharper than us across the board. It’s very difficult to win a game when you are not functioning.”
Morton hadn’t surrendered more than two runs since the Cardinals tagged him for five in a 13-0 victory on Aug. 1 in Pittsburgh. He went on to win his next three decisions over five starts, including a no-decision after giving up two runs in seven innings on Aug. 13 at St. Louis.
Wacha got his second career hit with a single up the middle on the first pitch he saw from Vin Mazzaro in a four-run fifth that scored David Freese and Matt Adams. St. Louis used 10 batters in the 28-minute inning — exactly how long Wacha needed to get through six innings of pitching.
“That was a lot of fun,” Wacha said of his hit. “I told myself that I was going to hop on the first heater. I was able to sneak it by the shortstop up the middle. I was pretty fired up about that.”
Wacha also helped set up a three-run second with a sacrifice bunt that pushed Pete Kozma to third in front of consecutive doubles from Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay.
Jay scored on Morton’s final offering, a wild pitch that bounced just in front of the left-handed batter’s box.
The Cardinals jumped in front with two runs in the first. Carpenter and Jay singled to start the inning and Matt Holliday walked to load the bases. Carlos Beltran hit a sacrifice fly and Yadier Molina had an RBI grounder.
“We all knew what was at stake,” Carpenter said. “This is the last time we get to play these guys, so it was a big series. I couldn’t be happier with the way it played out. Not just the fact that we won all three, but the fashion that we won all three. Really dominated, I feel like, every aspect of the game.”
Pittsburgh scored twice in the ninth off reliever Sam Freeman. Garrett Jones hit an RBI double and Gaby Sanchez had a sacrifice fly.
Jones said Wacha had the Pirates guessing all day.
“He has deception,” he said. “That downward angle can be tricky. He was able to hit his spots and he has a good arm.”
NOTES: Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen singled in the seventh to extend his hit streak to seven games. … Carpenter’s single in the first was his 99th hit at home this season, a single-season record for the current Busch Stadium. … Pittsburgh 3B Pedro Alvarez committed his major league-leading 27th error in the seventh, allowing pinch-hitter Brock Peterson to reach. … The Cardinals are off Monday, but many will participate in Matheny’s charity golf tournament. His Catch 22 Foundation supports charities that work with children with disabilities.