Streaking Cards ensure slumping Bucs will finish last

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The St. Louis Cardinals finally put together a three-game winning streak in September.

Too little, too late.

Jim Edmonds broke open a tight game with a three-run single in the eighth inning and the Cardinals defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

St. Louis entered September in the thick of the National League Central playoff race. After closing to within a game of the division lead Sept. 6, the Cardinals promptly lost 14 of their next 16.

"You know what? It would be a lot nicer if we put this together a long time ago," Edmonds said. "Right now, nothing feels good. We're not in the playoffs, and we're just kind of hanging out. It doesn't feel that good anymore. We're just trying to get to the end of the year."

So Taguchi drove in two runs and David Eckstein scored three times for the defending World Series champions, who will be forced to watch the playoffs this time around when the three-game series concludes Sunday.

"I'm trying to have fun these past couple days and make sure these guys have a good time," Edmonds said. "I don't know why we're winning but we're winning."

Matt Kata had two hits and the lone RBI for the Pirates, who assured themselves of a last-place finish with their 11th loss in the past 13 games.

The go-ahead run scored without a hit, when Eckstein led off the eighth with a walk and stole second. Rick Ankiel sacrificed him to third and Albert Pujols was intentionally walked by John Grabow (3-2), who hit Ryan Ludwick with a pitch. After getting ahead of Taguchi 1-2, Grabow walked in the go-ahead run.

Two batters and two pitchers later, Edmonds delivered a pinch-hit single to right that Steve Pearce dived for and missed. All three runners scored to make it 5-1.

"It was luck," Edmonds said. "I hit the ball off the end of the bat, and the guy broke back. I'm just trying to put the ball in play; I'm not really trying to do anything special. I'll do whatever I can right now. I'm just trying to enjoy these last couple days."

Russ Springer (8-1) worked the seventh for his career-high eighth victory.

Each team had a pitcher trying to impress its management to earn a 2008 starting job on the mound, and both performed well.

Pittsburgh's Zach Duke, a rookie phenom two seasons ago, lowered his ERA to 5.53 in his third outing since coming off the disabled list due. He allowed one run and eight hits without a walk in seven innings.

"I felt real good," Duke said. "The ball was doing what it was supposed to do, and I was moving around and felt in control. It was definitely a good way to end the season."

"I think Zach Duke was out there tonight feeling a lot of what he felt in 2005," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "And what a good sendoff that is going into his offseason."

Todd Wellemeyer, a 29-year-old journeyman pitching for his fourth team in three years, made the start for St. Louis after coming out of the bullpen most of the second half. He allowed one run on three hits without a walk, striking out five in six innings.

"They're a very aggressive-swinging club," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said of the Pirates. "If a different club's out here taking a lot of pitches, then you have a different-looking game. He's got plus stuff, and it's tough to sit there and take strike one all the time."

Wellemeyer has worked 18 innings and allowed only two runs and six hits in his four starts since July 8.

Three of the first five batters of the game had hits off of Duke, culminating with a Taguchi RBI single.

Pittsburgh did not advance a runner past second until there were two outs in the sixth, when Kata drove in Jack Wilson with a single to left. Wellemeyer's night ended a half-inning later when he was lifted for a pinch hitter.

"I was definitely wanting to finish strong," Wellemeyer said. "It's a good way to end the season."

Game notes
Ludwick extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games with a single in the sixth inning. ... The Cardinals are 9-2 in games Wellemeyer has started this season. ... Pujols grounded into two double plays, giving him 27 for the season. ... Pujols has gone 102 consecutive plate appearances without striking out, the longest active streak in the majors. He has not struck out in September.