ST. LOUIS (AP) - Pittsburgh right-hander Charlie Morton simply couldn't get his trademark sinker to work Thursday night.
That meant trouble for the Pirates.
St. Louis third baseman David Freese had a go-ahead two-run single in the fifth and Matt Holliday hit a three-run homer, leading the Cardinals to an 8-4 victory over the Pirates.
The Cardinals ended a three-game losing streak and moved within 9 1/2 games of idle Milwaukee in the NL Central. Pittsburgh lost for the sixth time in nine games.
Morton (9-7) gave up nine hits and five earned runs in 4 1-3 innings. He struggled from the outset and never found a rhythm.
``Even if you are tired you should be able to throw a sinker,' Morton said. ``I guess I just wasn't throwing it the correct way.'
Morton entered the game with a 1-0 record and 0.95 ERA in his previous four starts.
But he gave up two runs in the first inning and one in the second to put his team in an early 3-0 hole.
``I don't think he got that real good position where he was getting full extension,' Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. ``It seemed like more of a rush for him.'
The Pirates climbed back from the early deficit to take a 4-3 lead before Morton gave up two more runs in the fifth.
Freese blooped a bases-loaded hit down the right-field line with one out to put St. Louis in front to stay, 5-4. The hit served as redemption for Freese, who committed a costly error in the third inning that led to three unearned runs. Then, in the bottom of the frame, he grounded into an inning-ending double play that killed a potential rally.
``You play this game for six months and sometimes things are going to get tough on you,' Freese said. ``You play this game long enough you don't sweat when things aren't going well.'
Freese more than made up for the early mistakes later in the game.
``I'm a guy that definitely wants to perform,' Freese said.
Allen Craig began the fifth inning with a single. Morton (9-7) then walked Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman to set the stage for Freese's game-winning hit.
``He makes an error, he feels (bad). Hits into a double play, he feels worse,' St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. ``Next time up there he clears his mind and puts a good swing on the ball. You've got to be a tough competitor to not dwell on the negative. That's why he's going to be a real good player for a long time here.'
Holliday hit a three-run homer in the eighth off reliever Tony Watson. It was Holliday's 19th of the season. The veteran outfielder was not surprised that Freese was able to bounce back.
``I don't worry about him,' Holliday said. ``He's a good hitter. I'm never surprised when he gets a big hit.'
Holliday's homer put the Cardinals up 8-4.
Hurdle called Watson's hanging slider to Holliday, ``a cement mixer.'
St. Louis starter Edwin Jackson (10-9) allowed one earned run and struck out two. He walked three in his sixth start for the Cardinals. Jackson, acquired in a trade from Toronto on July 27, reached 10 wins for the fourth straight season.
Jackson improved to 3-2 with St. Louis. He has allowed three earned runs or less in five of his six starts with the Cardinals.
``At the end of the night we got a win and that's the mission,' said Jackson, who was not pleased with his performance. ``It was fortunate that I was able to come out with a little less damage.'
St. Louis relievers Marc Rzepczynski, Jason Motte and Fernando Salas combined for three scoreless innings. Motte struck out Ronny Cedeno and got Ryan Doumit to fly out with a runner on third and one out to end the eighth.
``He's the best guy we have coming into an inning with trouble,' La Russa said of Motte.
The Pirates took a 4-3 lead in the fourth on consecutive doubles by Cedeno and Michael McKenry.
St. Louis took a 3-0 lead with two runs in the first and one in the second. Pujols and Berkman had RBI singles in the first. Skip Schumaker drove in Rafael Furcal with a two-out single in the second.
Pittsburgh scored three unearned runs in the third to tie the game. Garrett Jones' two-run bases-loaded single was the big blow. The error by Freese on an easy grounder opened the gates for the two-out rally.
NOTES: Jake Westbrook (10-7, 4.70 ERA) will face Pittsburgh right-hander James McDonald (8-6, 4.21) in the second game of the four-game series on Friday. McDonald has won eight of his last 12 decisions. ... Pittsburgh RF Jose Tabata had a 10-game hitting streak snapped. ... On July 24, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Milwaukee were tied for first in the NL Central. After Thursday's games Milwaukee had a 9 1/2-game lead over St. Louis. Cincinnati is third, 13 games back, and Pittsburgh is fourth, another three games behind. ... The Pirates play nine of their next 10 games on the road. ... Pittsburgh must go 21-11 the rest of the way to finish .500 or better for the first time in 19 years. ... Furcal batted eighth for the first time this season on Thursday. ... Cardinals INF Ryan Theriot, mired in an 0-for-10 slump, had a sacrifice bunt in the eighth.
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