PITTSBURGH -- Back in spring training, this is how the Pittsburgh Pirates envisioned the season going. They would have strong young pitching, excellent leadoff hitting from Chris Duffy and a productive middle of the order.
Ian Snell pitched seven effective innings and Freddy Sanchez's three hits led to each of the last-place Pirates' runs in a 3-2 victory over the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.
Snell (10-8), the only Pirates starter with a winning record who has been with the club all season, was successful in his third attempt at victory No. 10, giving up only Albert Pujols' two-run homer in the fifth inning.
"He was mixing it up pretty nice, throwing an 88-miles per hour changeup and sometimes as high as a 96-miles per hour fastball and a good little slider," Scott Spiezio said. "He was real tough."
Pujols' 35th homer of the season was his 19th in Pittsburgh since PNC Park opened in 2001, easily the most of any opposing player.
The Cardinals, losing their fourth in five games and 12th in 16, again had no offense except for Pujols. He went 4-for-4 with three doubles Friday but couldn't prevent a 7-1 loss as the Pirates' Zach Duke pitched a complete game.
"We're not going to single the guy out, make like Albert's great and the other guys weren't," manager Tony La Russa said. "There weren't that many balls hit hard. And that's not taking away from Snell, he pitched well. We're capable of doing more than we did."
The Pirates have won 10 of their last 14 at home and are 14-13 since being 30 games below .500 at the All-Star break.
"We make mistakes and we pay for them, but we're a young team and we're learning and it's all going to come together -- hopefully to finish out this year," Snell said.
Snell struck out six and walking three while twice fanning Spiezio to end innings with two runners on base.
"I think I've proved myself enough, and I'm trying to show my team -- and myself -- I'm reliable and that I can do this the rest of the year," Snell said.
His 10 victories are as many as the Pirates' team leader Dave Williams, had last season. Back in April, when he gave up 16 runs in 15 innings in his first three starts, the 24-year-old Snell wasn't sure if it would be this way.
"It was horrible. I'm surprised they weren't at my apartment with pitch forks," Snell said. "But if you're a young pitcher, you're going to go through ups and downs."
John Grabow pitched a scoreless eighth, getting Pujols to ground out, before Mike Gonzalez finished up in the ninth for his 20th save in as many opportunities this season. He has converted 24 attempts in a row since August 2004, the longest streak in the majors.
The Cardinals have been the majors' top team in August -- a key month that often sets the tone for the September stretch drive -- by going 114-73 since 2000. But they are 4-8 this month, cutting their division lead to 2½ games over Cincinnati.
Jeff Weaver was 4-0 in his previous five starts against Pittsburgh, but took the loss after giving up three runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Sanchez, who leads the NL with a .344 average, also singled in a run in the first after Duffy singled and stole second. After Pujols' first-pitch homer off Snell put the Cardinals up 2-1 in the fifth, consecutive one-out singles by Sanchez, Bay and Jeromy Burnitz tied it in the bottom of the inning.
Duffy, a .341 hitter as a rookie last season, has five hits in two games after going 3-for-32 following his Aug. 1 call-up. He began the season as a starter, but balked at being sent to the minors with a .194 average after 31 games and didn't play for more than a month.
"I think every day I'm getting a little more (momentum)," Duffy said.
Before winning the first two games of the three-game series, the Pirates were 2-7 against St. Louis this season, 6-19 the last two seasons and 12-34 in Pittsburgh since PNC Park opened.
- Pujols is 5-for-7 in the series and 13-of-24 (.542) against the Pirates this season.
- The Cardinals are 25-29 against the NL Central after going 51-29 during their 100-win season last year.
- Pirates OF Nate McLouth sat out with a sore ankle, a night after driving in a career-high three runs.
- Snell was 1-for-33 (.030) at the plate until he singled to load the bases in the fourth, but Duffy grounded out to end the threat.