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PIT@STL: Molina's three hits leads Cards past Bucs

ST. LOUIS -- Just two days removed from blowing a save, another ominous ending loomed over Jason Motte on Saturday.

On Motte's plate in the ninth inning: men on first and third, one out and a 3-0 count to Pirates' cleanup hitter, Garrett Jones, as St. Louis clung to a one-run lead. What was going on inside the mind of the Cardinals' closer with his back against the wall?

"Nothing," said Motte. "I don't really think about the other day. I'm out there and I'm like, 'I've got to get this guy at the plate.' That's pretty much exactly what I was thinking."

Motte punched out Jones with three consecutive, nasty two-seam fastballs. He then got Josh Harrison to ground out to seal a 5-4 Cardinals victory over the Pirates before 40,313 fans at Busch Stadium.

"You have to go out there with the mindset of, 'Everything I can,' this pitch. Go at it," Motte said. "I was able to make pitches and get out of it. If I wouldn't have made pitches and wouldn't have gotten out of it, I was still going up there trying to get the next guy and the next guy. You don't really have a choice when you're out there."

Motte's 28th save of the season capped off a long day for the Cardinals' bullpen, as starter Lance Lynn registered his shortest outing of the season. A handful of St. Louis relievers helped the Cards preserve a lead powered by Yadier Molina, who made his first start behind the plate after missing three straight games with tightness in his back.

With the bases loaded and two down in the fifth, Molina hit a ground-rule double down the right-field line to give St. Louis a 5-3 lead. Molina finished 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs, a run scored and tied a career best with two doubles.

"It feels so good," Molina said of being able to contribute, an ice pack strapped to his back. "I've been waiting for this moment for the past three days. It's good to be back. It's good to get the win. It's good to get a few hits and help the team win."

The Cardinals had lost two straight games entering Saturday -- each by a 2-1 score -- without Molina in the lineup.

"He's just a clutch hitter," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Molina. "In statistics, that's a hard one to track, and people debate it. But to me, there are just certain guys who are able to get it done in big situations, and Yadi is one of them."

Molina's double off Pirates starter Erik Bedard put the Cardinals back on top after Pittsburgh had tied the game at 3 on a sacrifice fly by Jones in the top half of the fifth. Jordy Mercer hit an RBI double off Lynn earlier in the inning, and advanced to third on a wild pitch by reliever Barret Browning. Browning allowed the inherited run to score on Jones' sacrifice fly.

After that, Browning, Trevor Rosenthal, Edward Mujica and Mitchell Boggs got St. Louis to the ninth without allowing any more runs to cross. As Motte had in the ninth, Boggs bent but didn't break in the eighth, allowing a pair of hits before retiring the next three batters in a row.

"It's executing your pitches and doing your job," Motte said. "If we keep doing what we're capable of, we have the stuff out there, and it's just about going out there and doing it."

Lynn exited after 4 1/3 innings, and struggled with his command in the fourth. He used 33 pitches in the inning, and loaded the bases with three straight one-out walks. Lynn did bear down, however, striking out Clint Barmes and Bedard to escape the jam.

First innings had been an issue of concern for Lynn as he entered Saturday. He'd allowed nine earned runs in the first innings of four prior outings. While Lynn overcame that hurdle by retiring the Pirates in order in the first, he noted that he may have let his emotions affect his game.

"When you're out there, sometimes the emotions overtake you, and you can't let that happen," Lynn said. "I was able not to give up the big inning. But some of the emotions, I'm just trying to do all I can to help us beat the team that is ahead of us. I was fighting all day, and I need to make sure I don't let [the emotions] be seen as much."

The Cardinals have found themselves on the wrong end of one-run games often this year, going 13-21 in such decisions. When asked to explain how his club managed to come out on the winning end of a one-run decision after two straight losses, Matheny shook his head and smiled.

He wasn't sure how to answer.

"We play the game hard. We're going to do the right thing -- get guys over, do the bunts, play good defense. It's just been a bizarre thing that is hard to get our heads around," Matheny said. "We go in there and talk about what could we have possibly done different here. We ask ourselves all those questions, because that's our job. But it all comes down to [looking at] ourselves in the mirror and [realizing] we're going about the game the right way, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't.

"Today, it happened to work out. It was a little scarier than what we wanted, but it worked out."

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