The Pittsburgh Pirates arrived in San Diego a bit exhausted and originally uncertain about who their starting pitcher would be in the series opener against a Padres team that has historically given them trouble.
Despite these seemingly glaring disadvantages, they're in high spirits.
After outlasting a team right on their heels in the wild-card race to win the majors' longest game of the year, the Pirates hope to ride the momentum into Monday night's opener with the Padres, who are going for their 16th victory in the last 19 meetings in the series.
In a season filled with encouraging victories for a Pirates franchise seeking its first playoff berth since 1992, Sunday's 6-3, 19-inning win over St. Louis might have been its biggest. Pedro Alvarez homered in the 19th and two more runs came around on an Andrew McCutchen single for the Pirates (67-54), who took two of three from the Cardinals to move two games ahead of their division rival in the race for the league's last wild-card spot.
"It was a battle all around on both sides," McCutchen said. "They came to play and we were just able to get the win.
"It feels good."
Wandy Rodriguez, the eighth pitcher used by the Pirates, threw two scoreless innings to earn the win. A problem with that, however, is he was scheduled to start Monday.
Manager Clint Hurdle had not selected a starter to replace him until deciding Monday to use former Padres right-hander Kevin Correia (9-7, 4.56 ERA). Correia threw 24 pitches over two scoreless innings out of the bullpen Sunday, and will become the first Pirate to appear in relief and start the next day since Pascual Perez in 1981.
Hurdle is also hoping to come up with a way to beat the Padres (53-70), something the Pirates have struggled with mightily over the past few seasons.
Pittsburgh won for only the third time in 18 meetings with an 11-5 victory over San Diego last Sunday at PNC Park to snap a five-game losing streak in the series.
Clint Barmes homered and drove in four runs in the last game, while McCutchen, Neil Walker and Michael McKenry each had two RBIs. McCutchen finished with two hits after going 5 for 41 (.122) with two RBIs in his previous 12 games in the series.
Although McCutchen and the Pirates haven't enjoyed much success lately against San Diego, they could have better luck facing Edinson Volquez (7-9, 4.31) again.
Volquez has a 13.83 ERA in his last four starts - causing his ERA to jump from 3.30 - and hasn't made it out of the fourth inning in any of his three games this month.
"It's kind of frustrating because I'm used to going deep in games," the right-hander said after being tagged for six runs and seven hits in 3 2-3 innings of a 6-1 loss to Atlanta on Wednesday. "Now the last three starts have been kind of short. We'll see what happens the next game."
He didn't fare too well against the Pirates on Aug. 10, though, yielding six runs and seven hits in 3 1-3 innings, but the Padres rallied for a 9-8 win. McCutchen was 0 for 2 against Volquez, while Travis Snider had a three-run homer and Garrett Jones had a solo shot.
Unlike McCutchen, Chase Headley has put up gaudy numbers in this series, and he's likely eager for it to begin after being ejected following a fly out in the fourth inning of Sunday's 7-1 win over San Francisco, snapping the Padres' five-game skid.
Headley, August's major league leader with 24 RBIs and the NL leader with eight home runs, had three homers in Pittsburgh last week, and is batting .345 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in his last eight games in the series.