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Ninth-inning Duncan HR helps Cards sweep Pirates

Cardinals 3, Pirates 2

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- So Taguchi couldn't have had a much better day, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and reaching base four times. With the game on the line in the ninth inning, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa felt he had an even better option.

Chris Duncan, pinch-hitting for the perfect-until-then Taguchi, homered off Pittsburgh closer Salomon Torres to give St. Louis a 3-2 victory over the Pirates on Wednesday and a three-game sweep.

"That second spot was hot today," La Russa said.

Duncan's homer was his fourth as a pinch-hitter in 28 at-bats the last two seasons and made for another rough day for Torres (0-1), who squandered a 2-0 lead and a save opportunity during the ninth Tuesday night before the Cardinals won 3-2 in the 12th.

"When I saw Torres warming up, I figured that's who I was going to face," Duncan said. "Tony kind of gave me a head's up. I made sure I stayed warm and I was ready to go when I got my opportunity."

Duncan saw nothing but fastballs when he walked against Torres the night before, and he kept looking for the fastball again until he got one below the knees on a 2-2 pitch.

"Late in the game, you can't afford to walk guys and they [the relievers] are a little more aggressive," Duncan said. "I knew he had a good fastball, I just wanted to make sure I was ready to hit it."

La Russa said he didn't automatically hit for Taguchi because a right-hander was on the mound -- Taguchi doubled against right-hander Jonah Bayliss in the seventh.

"It's late in the game, the [Pirates] bullpen's not very deep and you know Chris has a shot to do some damage," La Russa said. "I wasn't thinking home run, but I thought he'd get on first base ahead of Albert [Pujols]."

Torres blamed himself for not going after the hitters like he usually does, saying he was trying to pinpoint pitches so he didn't get behind in the count.

"I've got to put it behind me," Torres said. "I wanted to get back out there, but I wasn't as aggressive as I should have been. Now I know what I've got to fix, and I'm going to fix it. I've done it before. I don't have to go to school for four years to find out what I'm doing wrong."

The Cardinals are 36-15 against the Pirates since 2004 and have won 31 of their last 40 against their NL Central rivals but had not swept a three-game series in PNC Park since Aug. 27-29, 2004.

Ryan Franklin (1-0) got four outs for the victory as the Cardinals won their fourth in a row and fifth in six games since dropping their first three of the season to the Mets. The Pirates lost their third in a row and are 1-5 since sweeping Houston in a three-game series.

St. Louis didn't need many runs to sweep, scoring only nine runs -- three in each game. But the Cardinals didn't require many runs with the pitching they got, limiting the Pirates to four runs in 30 innings.

"We're doing a little bit on offense, we're pitching well, we're defending well," La Russa said. "Just like when we lost three in a row, that didn't mean we were a bad ballclub, and getting above .500 doesn't mean we're a juggernaut, either."

Adam Wainwright, a converted reliever, made his second effective start of the season by limiting the Pirates to two runs in 6 2/3 innings. But he couldn't hold a 2-1 lead in the seventh as he hit pinch-hitter Don Kelly with a pitch and walked Chris Duffy ahead of a sacrifice bunt and Freddy Sanchez's sacrifice fly.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Brad Eldred hit a long drive into the gap in left-center about 400 feet from home plate, but Taguchi ran the ball down.

"We had some tough luck with that 408-foot out," manager Jim Tracy said. "If he pulls it just a little, it's four runs. He [Taguchi] had to go a long way to get that ball. [Center fielder] Jim Edmonds had no chance."

Eldred reached base on a force play and on Humberto Cota's RBI single in the fourth. The Cardinals took a 2-1 lead in the fifth against Pirates starter Paul Maholm on run-scoring singles by David Eckstein and Preston Wilson.

Neither team was efficient with runners on base -- the Pirates stranded 13 runners and the Cardinals 11.

"It's very frustrating," Sanchez said. "We've got to do a better job of hitting with runners on base. Hopefully, everybody will start heating up at the same time."

Game notes
Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen was out of the lineup for a second day in a row with back spasms. La Russa is hopeful he can return Friday against Milwaukee. ... Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche, his average down to .097, didn't start for the first time in Pittsburgh's nine games because of lower back stiffness. ... The game-time temperature was 45, but the players said a steady wind made it feel much colder.