PITTSBURGH -- The St. Louis Cardinals climbed back into the NL Central race by twice rallying from big deficits against Milwaukee last weekend. The Pittsburgh Pirates should have known better than to give them a second chance.
Two misplays by Pirates catcher Ronny Paulino in the same at-bat helped St. Louis score the go-ahead run in the sixth inning, and the Cardinals won their fourth in a row by extending Pittsburgh's July slide with a 6-4 victory Tuesday night.
The Cardinals matched their longest winning streak of the season and Adam Wainwright (10-8) limited the Pirates to two runs over six innings.
David Eckstein and Skip Schumaker hit consecutive sacrifice flies during a two-run seventh inning and the Cardinals won their 38th in 53 games in PNC Park -- easily the best record of any team since the ballpark opened in 2001.
The Pirates wasted another effective start by Paul Maholm (7-13) and two RBI by Jack Wilson to lose their 14th in 16 games since the All-Star break. Maholm, the only Pirates pitcher to win since July 8, held St. Louis to two earned runs over six innings and probably should have gotten out of the sixth inning without allowing a run.
He retired the first two batters before Scott Rolen singled. Maholm got Ryan Ludwick to hit a routine popup behind the plate, but Paulino was slow to turn and look for the ball and didn't appear to see it until it bounced off his glove for his 17th error in two seasons.
Ludwick promptly doubled to center, though the Pirates appeared to have Rolen thrown out at the plate. But Paulino dropped shortstop Wilson's relay throw and Rolen scored. Paulino was not charged with an error for the dropped throw and Ludwick was credited with an RBI double.
"I don't know why that happens," Ludwick said, referring to how many times a batter seems to get a hit after being given second life during an at-bat. "They say bad things happen to a (losing) team when that happens. All I know is I got a good pitch to hit."
If it's bad, it's bound to happen to these Pirates. Fittingly, Paulino led off the bottom of the sixth and was denied an apparent extra-base hit when left fielder Ludwick stretched out to make an excellent catch.
Afterward, manager Jim Tracy was upset that yet another dropped throw at the plate by Paulino cost the Pirates again. There is no statistic for such plays but, as Tracy said, "I don't know (why it happens), but there have been a bunch of them."
Maholm was more supportive of his catcher, who was booed loudly during the misplay and again during his next two at-bats.
"That's one of the hardest balls to catch," Maholm said. "I had a chance to make a pitch and get out of the inning and I didn't get out of it. I could have gotten him off the hook."
Except with his manager. Tracy said of the number of dropped throws, "Something has to happen there."
It did again for the Cardinals an inning later as Aaron Miles singled and pinch-hitter Chris Duncan doubled to start the seventh against reliever Salomon Torres, and Eckstein and Schumaker followed with sacrifice flies to make it 5-2.
"That's how winning teams do it," Wainwright said. "You get runs however you can."
Rolen doubled and scored on another sacrifice fly, by Yadier Molina, in the eighth. The Pirates got the run back when Ryan Doumit ended an 0-for-20 slide with a homer to right off Ryan Franklin. Molina also had an RBI single in the fourth.
Jason Isringhausen pitched the ninth inning for his 21st save in 23 opportunities.
The Cardinals built on winning the final three of their four-game series against Milwaukee, when they came back from deficits of five and six runs.
"We're playing hard right now," Ludwick said. "It's fun, a lot of fun."
Wilson had two RBI singles and Jason Bay added another while getting three hits for the Pirates, who lost their fourth in a row and seventh in eight games to fall a season-worst 20 games under .500. They must win 39 of their final 58 to dodge a 15th consecutive losing season, one short of the Phillies' major league record.
Wainwright, 2-1 in four starts against Pittsburgh this season and 4-1 overall in July, gave up eight hits, walked one and struck out three. Maholm allowed six hits.
Pirates center fielder Xavier Nady was lifted with a sore hamstring while running the bases in the fourth inning, but it isn't certain how long he will be out.