PITTSBURGH (AP) — It took only one batter for Michael Wacha to realize his second time pitching at PNC Park wasn’t going to be nearly as good as the first.
Jose Tabata’s first-inning line drive struck the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander on the left ankle and ricocheted off his right shin for an infield single. That was a contrast to Game 4 of last year’s National League Division Series, when Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Wacha wound up with a no-decision and hot-hitting Neil Walker had three hits, including a go-ahead three-run home run in the seventh inning, and drove in four runs to help the Pirates beat the Cardinals 6-4.
“Wacha is so good, as we found out last year,” said Walker, who has reached base in 22 of his last 40 plate appearances. “He throws hard and you’ve got to shorten up your swing and put the ball in play. That’s the best way to approach him because you’re usually not going to do too much against him.”
While Walker’s first two hits were against Wacha, his seventh homer came off Carlos Martinez (0-2) and rallied the Pirates from a 4-3 deficit for their third straight victory. Jordy Mercer and pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez led off the inning with singles and were bunted up a base by Jose Tabata before Walker hit a drive into the right-field stands.
“Martinez is as tough as Wacha, but he hung a slider and I was able to put a good swing on it,” Walker said. “I was surprised. The guy has such great stuff that you’re not thinking that you’re going to hit a home run in that situation. It was huge.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said it didn’t appear that Martinez got the home run pitch “where he wanted it.”
Wacha lasted five innings and gave up three runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts and one walk as his winless streak reach five starts. He said getting hit by the line drive did not affect his performance.
“The shin had nothing to do with it,” Wacha said.
Mercer had three of the Pirates’ 12 hits, while Ike Davis, who hit a two-run double in the first inning to open the scoring, and Tabata had two hits apiece. Pittsburgh beat St. Louis for the 10th time in 13 games at home.
St. Louis had gone ahead in the top of the seventh on Jhonny Peralta’s solo home run, his eighth. Allen Craig’s three-run home run, his fourth, accounted for the Cardinals’ other runs.
Peralta and Craig had two hits apiece in the Cardinals’ second loss in five games.
Craig, who is hitting just .211, had been given a two-day break by Matheny, sitting out Wednesday’s win at Atlanta before St. Louis’ off day Thursday.
“The obvious is how the ball jumped there on the home run,” Matheny said. “That’s what Allen Craig does, too, when we need the big hit of any kind. It was perfect. He’s not that far off.”
Justin Wilson (1-0) struck out the only batter he faced, Matt Adams, to end the top of the seventh. Mark Melancon, filling as the closer for injured Jason Grilli, pitched a scoreless ninth for his third save.
NOTES: The game was delayed 25 minutes in the top of the fourth inning because of rain. … Pirates OF Travis Snider’s appeal of his two-game suspension for his actions in an April 20 brawl were upheld and he began serving his penalty Friday night. … The Cardinals recalled OF Joey Butler from Triple-A Memphis and optioned OF Randal Grichuk to the same club. … Pittsburgh recalled INF Brent Morel from Triple-A Indianapolis. They had optioned RHP Phil Irwin to Indianapolis on Thursday. … Grilli threw from the top of the mound Friday for the first time since April 21 when the closer went on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. … Cardinals RHP Lance Lynn (4-1, 3.51) will start Saturday night against RHP Edinson Volquez (1-3, 4.19).