Molina homers, Flaherty fans 11 as Cardinals top Pirates 2-1

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Yadier Molina hit a two-run homer and Jack Flaherty struck out 11 as the St. Louis Cardinals kept their hold on a postseason spot with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.

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Molina’s home run to the bleachers in left field came in the seventh inning off Derek Holland and extended St. Louis’ winning streak to a season-high four games. The Cardinals had been shut out by Joe Musgrove over the first six innings.

Flaherty (4-2) allowed only one run and two hits in six innings while walking two. It was his ninth career double-digit strikeout game.

Flaherty had been tagged for a career-worst nine runs in three innings in his previous start Tuesday at Milwaukee. He said he made some slight changes to his throwing mechanics between starts.

“It’s a game of continuous adjustments and there was obviously a lot to improve on after the last one,” Flaherty said. “I had a good week of work of getting together with guys and seeing what adjustments we could make.”

The Cardinals (26-24) hold a one-game lead on Cincinnati (27-27) and Milwaukee (26-26) for second place in the NL Central with one week left in the regular season. The top two finishers in each division gain berths in the expanded postseason during this pandemic-affected season.

“It’s a grind but we’re concentrating on ourselves and we try to do the best we can,” Molina said. “Right now, we’re finding a way to get wins It’s a weird year, but we hope it’s going to be a special year and we’ll be the COVID World Series champs.”

Musgrove also had 11 strikeouts – a career high -- in six innings but remained winless in seven starts this season. He gave up three hits and one walk.

That came a day after Pirates rookie Mitch Keller pitched six shutout innings.

“He had really good stuff,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said of Musgrove. “I mean that’s back-to-back that starts from our starters executing all their pitches, pretty much been in complete control. So, really positive where we’re building towards the end of the year.”

Matt Carpenter singled in the St. Louis seventh off Holland (1-3) and Molina hit his fourth homer of the year.

A night earlier, Molina left the game after being on the left wrist by a pitch. The nine-time All-Star was also hit in nearly the same spot Tuesday by a swing while behind the plate.

Yet the 38-year-old was back in the lineup.

“He’s a special player,” St. Louis. manager Mike Shildt said. “He’s still playing and he’s going to continue to play. Today, he stepped up, was clearly banked up, but he’s a winning player and winners find solutions.”

Pittsburgh scored its run in the fourth inning. Bryan Reynolds hit a leadoff double, moved to third on Adam Frazier’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Colin Moran’s sacrifice fly.

That was the only inning in which the Pirates had a runner in scoring position.

St. Louis squandered a leadoff double by Dylan Carlson in the third inning and a one-out double by Paul Goldschmidt in the sixth.

OPTION TRIGGERED

By pitching Sunday, Miller’s $12 million option for next season vested. He is the final guaranteed season of the two-year, $25 million contract he signed I free agency.

“It’s been on my mind at times, but I’ve done everything in my control to just ignore it and worry about pitching,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate in this game that the financial situation is something that’s pretty far back in my mind.”

LOTS OF TRADES

The Pirates traded three minor league pitchers as part of separate transactions, including shipping RHP Joel Cesar to the Philadelphia Phillies to complete the Aug. 26 deal for LHP Austin Davis.

LHP Domingo Robles was traded to the Cardinals and RHP Connor Loeprich was sent to the Baltimore Orioles. The Pirates received international bonus pool money in those trades.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: RHP John Gant (right groin discomfort) pitched a scoreless eighth inning in his first action in a week. … LHP Austin Gomber will take the rotation spot of RHP Dakota Hudson (right elbow tightness), who is out for the rest of the season.

Pirates: INF Kevin Newman is out for the remainder of the season because of a contusion to the peroneal nerve of his right knee. He was placed on the 10-day injured list a day after being hit by a pitch. OF Jason Martin was recalled from the alternate training site.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Open a three-game series against the Royals at Kansas City on Monday night. RHP Adam Wainwright (5-1, 2.87 ERA) faces rookie RHP Carlos Hernandez (0-0, 3.86 ERA).

Pirates: Remain home to play the Chicago Cubs in a four-game series. Rookie RHP JT Brubaker (1-2, 4.79 ERA) will start against LHP Jon Lester (2-2, 4.91 ERA) in the opener.

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