Ciriaco hit a tiebreaking double to cap a three-run rally in the eighth inning and the Pittsburgh Pirates stunned St. Louis 6-5 on Monday night, snapping the Cardinals' season-high five-game winning streak.
"It's just a great feeling for him ... after all the challenges he's had this year," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said of Ciriaco, sent back and forth from the minors six times this season. "I think there was a point of time when he had more flights [to Triple-A] than at-bats and we were trying to equal that out.
"He just battled. ... It was a really good moment for him personally and for our club."
Albert Pujols hit his NL-leading 35th homer and drove in three runs for St. Louis, which had won five in a row to climb within 4½ games of Atlanta for the NL wild card. The Cardinals also began the day six games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
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St. Louis built a 4-3 lead against fourth-place Pittsburgh but lost for the seventh time this season when leading after seven innings.
"We weren't going to go [16-0 the rest of the season]," Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said. "The most important thing for us is to worry about winning series. If we win this series, then we've done our job.
"We still have that in front of us. We can win the series. It's unrealistic to say we've got to go 7-0 on this road trip. That probably wasn't going to happen. This wasn't a death knell by any means."
Ryan Doumit, back in the lineup a day after he sustained a chest bruise, tied it at 4 in the eighth with an RBI double off Marc Rzepczynski (0-2). With the bases loaded and two outs, the light-hitting Ciriaco hit a liner down the right-field line off Fernando Salas for a two-run double and a 6-4 lead.
Ciriaco had 23 career at-bats over two seasons coming into the game and had struck out on three pitches in the seventh. He had 17 at-bats this season and three times had stints of three days or fewer with Pittsburgh.
Once last month, Ciriaco was in the airport heading for a seventh trip back to Triple-A before a last-minute injury summoned him back to the ballpark.
"It was a good feeling for me, especially to win the game," Ciriaco said. "When you're here, you want to stay here. You don't want to go down. I'm just trying to be more consistent and to be here and stay here."
Joel Hanrahan gave up a run in the ninth but held on for his 37th save, snapping Pittsburgh's three-game skid. With runners at second and third, the All-Star closer struck out pinch-hitter Corey Patterson to end it with Pujols on deck.
Jason Grilli (2-1) worked a perfect eighth for the win.
"We gave them a chance to come back, and they came back and beat us," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Pujols' home run off Brad Lincoln after Jon Jay led off the sixth with a single gave the Cardinals their only lead. It was the 443rd homer of his career, moving him into sole possession of 37th place.
Pujols has hit safely in 10 of 11 games played this month and has four homers in his past 12 games. It was his third home run in seven games this season at PNC Park, his 29th career there - most of any opposing player at the 11-year-old stadium and the most for him at any park not in St. Louis.
But the Cardinals' bullpen deprived Kyle Lohse of his sixth win in his past seven decisions and of the opportunity to improve to 8-2 in his career against the Pirates. Lohse allowed three runs on eight hits and a walk with three strikeouts.
Lincoln entered having allowed seven runs in four starts since permanently being put into the rotation Aug. 22. He endured his worst outing of the season, allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings.
"It's a tough one," Lohse said, "but we've just got to come back and win the series. That's all we can do now."
- Pittsburgh has had a starter pitch more than six innings only once in its past 21 games.
- St. Louis' most recent six-game winning streak in September came in 2008.
- The Cardinals are closing in on agreeing to a $21 million, two-year contract with RHP Chris Carpenter, who will start Tuesday. He is 12-3 lifetime against the Pirates but 1-2 in four starts this season.
- RHP Jeff Karstens will start for Pittsburgh, his first outing since Aug. 28 at St. Louis. He had his past two starts skipped due to shoulder stiffness.