PITTSBURGH -- Sometimes it's not the team that gets the most hits or throws the best pitches that wins. As the Cardinals proved against the Pirates, it also can be the team that knows the rules.
Yadier Molina doubled in the go-ahead run in the ninth with his fourth hit, and his alert defensive play possibly prevented a big Pirates eighth inning. St. Louis took advantage of Molina's heady play and several Pittsburgh defensive lapses to beat the Pirates 4-3 on Friday night.
Joe Mather, pinch running in the ninth after Matt Holliday singled for his fourth hit, arrived well behind the throw as he tried to steal second on a pitchout, but somehow got his hand in ahead of Aki Iwamura's tag. Molina followed with his double to the right-field wall off Evan Meek (1-1).
"He is one smart player," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Molina.
Especially when the rulebook is involved.
Ryan Franklin (2-0) got the final four outs for the victory despite throwing a tying wild pitch during the wild eighth, when five of the Pirates' six batters reached base but only one scored.
After Andy LaRoche and Andrew McCutchen singled off Jason Motte, LaRoche was caught in a rundown between third and the plate on Garrett Jones' grounder. LaRoche and McCutchen both ended up on third, and catcher Molina alertly tagged both out as LaRoche -- who was entitled to the bag -- momentarily took his foot off the base.
"I thought he had tagged me before I got back to the bag. So I stepped on the bag and just walked off," LaRoche said. "I looked like an idiot out there. I've got to learn from it."
Still, Molina was alert enough to realize LaRoche was the live runner and was eligible to be tagged.
"He's amazing," Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter said. "He is so smart, the things he does that people don't understand it's unbelievable. It's another point tonight to show how smart he is."
As the Pirates proved, it's also possible to overthink a situation.
"We gave that game away, flat out," McCutchen said.
St. Louis scored twice in the first against Zach Duke with the help of a defense that couldn't make plays regardless of where it was positioned.
The Pirates employed radical infield shifts against Ryan Ludwick and Molina, and both singled by driving the ball into right field through the hole where second baseman Iwamura normally plays. When the Cardinals did hit the ball to a fielder, shortstop Ronny Cedeno threw wildly on Holliday's grounder -- setting up Molina's two-run single.
"Teams look at numbers, and maybe they thought we hit a lot of balls up the middle," Holliday said. "I don't know why they do that."
Third baseman LaRoche also misplayed Molina's grounder in the sixth for an error, and Skip Schumaker hit a two-out single to make it 3-1.
"We probably shouldn't try to think too much about this and overanalyze it," Jones said.
That might have been a good suggestion before the game. The Pirates mostly dropped the shift in the later innings except against Albert Pujols, who went 0 for 5 to end an 11-game hitting streak.
Carpenter was denied his 11th consecutive victory in 12 starts against Pittsburgh since June 2004 -- and a 5-0 start this season -- when the Pirates tied it. He struck out eight and walked none over seven innings, allowing Lastings Milledge's RBI single in the fourth and Ryan Doumit's run-scoring double in the sixth.
The Cardinals were coming off three consecutive losses in Philadelphia while the Pirates were sweeping three from the Cubs.
St. Louis didn't score in the seventh despite getting three consecutive singles. Holliday slid past home plate and was tagged out on Molina's one-out hit.
The Cardinals left 13 on base. ... Pujols has a .382 career average in Pittsburgh. ... Pittsburgh's Jeff Clement was hitless in 19 at-bats before getting a one-out single in the ninth. ... McCutchen is batting .462 (12 for 26) in the first inning.