(Reuters) - The wild card Pittsburgh Pirates beat top seeds St. Louis 5-3 on Sunday to move within one victory of reaching the National League Championship Series (NLCS).
The Pirates, playing in the postseason for the first time in 21 years, rewarded their success-starved fans at rocking PNC Park by taking a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five National League Division Series.
“Unbelievable,” catcher Russell Martin said of the constant roar from the crowd of more than 40,000 at the sold-out stadium.
“Pittsburgh’s really coming strong. We love it. We want to keep it going.”
The Pirates can clinch a berth in the best-of-seven NLCS, which produces the National League representative for the World Series, when they host Game Four on Monday.
St. Louis tied the taut contest 3-3 on a home run by slugger Carlos Beltran in the eighth inning. The blast was Beltran’s 16th career home run in the postseason.
But Pittsburgh came right back with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning on RBI singles by Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin.
Alvarez delivered his go-ahead hit off of rookie left-handed reliever Kevin Siegrist, who pitched to a remarkable 0.45 earned run average in just under 40 innings during the regular season.
“He’s a pretty good pitcher,” the left-handed hitting Alvarez said about Siegrist. “He’s got good stuff. I had to be ready to hit and put good contact on the ball.”
Martin, whose sacrifice fly in the sixth scored Andrew McCutchen to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead off St. Louis starter Joe Kelly, followed Alvarez with another run-scoring single in the eighth to pad the lead.
Marlon Byrd, whose one-out double had moved McCutchen to third base in the sixth, also accounted for Pittsburgh’s first two runs with a two-out, two-run single in the first.
The Cardinals tied the game in the fifth on a two-run single from hot-hitting Beltran off Pirates starter Francisco Liriano.
The Pirates, who have beaten NL Central rivals St. Louis in eight of 11 meetings this season at PNC Park, want to end the series on Monday rather than have to go back to St. Louis for a Game Five.
“The crowd really gives us a lot of energy out there,” Martin said. “If we keep winning, they’re going to keep bringing it. So we’ve got to keep doing that.”
Said McCutchen: “We want to be that team to win. We want to do it at home.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny expected to see his team rebound from the loss.
“I’ve been very impressed with how our club has bounced back,” the St. Louis skipper said. “We’ve got a short memory, but right now it hurts.”
Mark Melancon, the second of three relievers who followed starter Francisco Liriano to the mound, was credited with the win.
Carlos Martinez, one of five pitchers used by St. Louis, took the loss.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Peter Rutherford