ST. LOUIS -- Joel Pineiro may have found himself a home in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation.
Pineiro, stuck in the Boston Red Sox bullpen before his trade to St. Louis on July 30, won for the fourth time in six starts as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-2 on Tuesday night.
The Cardinals moved back over .500 with the win and closed to one game behind the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. The Brewers are ahead of the Cardinals, a half-game behind the Cubs.
Pineiro (4-2) allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings.
"He's got good stuff," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "As soon as he believes in it as much as I do he'll be a better pitcher.
"He still thinks he has to do more to be a good pitcher and when he realizes that he's not going to be in the fifth inning with 90-some pitches."
Pineiro has a 3.63 ERA in seven starts since joining the Cardinals. As a reliever with the Red Sox, Pineiro had a 5.03 ERA in 31 games.
"I've put my name back on track and I'm reviving myself as a starter," Pineiro said. "That's all I want to do. You keep the damage to a minimum."
Chris Duncan hit a three-run double to back Pineiro.
"It felt good to contribute," said Duncan, who had been in an 0-for-13 slump. "I've been struggling and grinding, trying to get through it."
Russell Branyan homered for St. Louis in his first start since being acquired from the Phillies four days earlier. Not known as a great fielder, he also made three nice plays at third base, each time on well-hit grounders by Josh Pearce. Rick Ankiel and Jim Edmonds had an RBI apiece in the first inning for the Cardinals, who have won five of six.
Matt Morris (8-9) struggled in his second start in St. Louis as a visiting player. Morris, whose 101 wins rank 10th on the Cardinals' career list, lasted five innings and gave up five runs and five hits.
"They were just trying to hit fastballs the other way and sitting on some breaking stuff," Morris said. "We scored two runs and then give up three with two outs, that's tough to take."
Nyjer Morgan and Jose Bautista each drove in a run in the third for the Pirates, who have lost six of seven. Jack Wilson singled twice, giving him six hits the last two games.
But Pittsburgh stranded 10 runners, leaving two on in four innings and the bases loaded in the eighth.
"That game basically boils down to the fact that they took the big at-bat with two outs and the bases loaded in the third inning, and we had several opportunities in need of a two-out hit and weren't able to get it," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "When you've got people on, you need to get a hit here or there."
David Eckstein and Ankiel doubled to open the bottom of the first, and Ankiel eventually scored on Edmonds' sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead. The Pirates bunched three hits and a walk in the third, with Morgan getting a run-scoring groundout and Bautista hitting an RBI double to tie it at 2.
The Cardinals loaded the bases in the third on Eckstein's single and walks to Ankiel and Edmonds. Duncan cleared them with an opposite-field drive into the left-field corner on a full count fastball.
"I was just basically looking for something out over the plate, and I thought he would stay soft with me, but he fell behind," Duncan said. "I just wanted to be aggressive after he fell behind."
Branyan hit his 10th homer off Franquelis Osoria, connecting for his third team this season, in the sixth for a 6-2 cushion. He hit seven for the Padres and two for the Phillies, and is 4-for-11 for his career at Busch Stadium.
The Pirates had the bases loaded with two outs in the eighth before Ryan Franklin got pinch hitter Nate McLouth on a broken-bat popup to second base. Miguel Cairo spread his legs apart after the catch to avoid the shattered bat, and Franklin worked a perfect ninth for his first career save.
A runaway squirrel entertained a sellout crowd during the early innings, emerging from the Cardinals' bullpen and wandering the warning track. Stadium personnel captured it in a barrel near the Pirates' dugout, the squirrel quickly jumped out into the stands, and was eventually caught again and then released outside the stadium. ... The Cardinals are 16-5 in their last 21 home games. ... Freddy Sanchez, coming off consecutive three-hit games, was 0-for-3 with two walks. ... Albert Pujols, who entered 6-for-9 with two homers against Morris, was a quiet 0-for-3 on Tuesday.