Bucs eye sweep of Cards at PNC

Albert Pujols may have hit a record-setting home run for inning shot from Pittsburgh's Garrett Jones soured any good feelings the slugger may have had.

Pujols and the Cardinals will try to avoid getting swept in three games by the Pirates and falling further back in the National League Central this evening at PNC Park.

Pujols became the first player in major league history to notch at least 30 home runs in each of his first 11 seasons when he went deep in the sixth inning. However, it was the Pirates who hit the more meaningful homers, at least as far as Tuesday's game was concerned.

After Matt Holliday lifted a sacrifice fly to put the Cardinals ahead by a run in the top of the ninth, Neil Walker countered with a solo homer in the bottom of the frame to force extra innings. That set up Jones' heroics as he blasted an Arthur Rhodes offering over the wall in right field to give the Pirates their second straight victory to begin a 10-game homestand.

"I knew I got it," Jones said. "It felt good to get the win."

Pittsburgh's back-to-back triumphs match its total from its previous 16 games prior to this set and the club will try to sweep St. Louis for the first time since taking three straight at home from Sept. 12-14, 2008.

Pujols didn't have much to celebrate after the loss, which dropped the Cardinals seven games behind the first-place Brewers in the division. The historic homer was the 28th of his career at PNC Park.

"Those are just numbers. They just reflect how great he is," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Pujols. "But he is great. He's a real weapon. He's not happy right now, I guarantee you."

Tasked with helping the Cardinals avoid the sweep and a fourth straight setback to the Pirates overall will be Kyle Lohse, who is in the midst of a four-start unbeaten streak that began with a no-decision against the Pirates on July 24. He gave up two runs in five innings of that outing and is 5-2 with a 3.59 earned run average over his career in this matchup.

Lohse has won twice and pitched to a 2.79 ERA over his run and is coming off a victory over the Rockies on Friday. The 32-year-old righty yielded one run on four hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings, striking out three in his longest outing in five starts while also adding an RBI single.

Lohse improved to 10-7 with a 3.37 ERA on the season, reaching double-digit wins for the first time since 2008.

It has been a season of tough luck for Pirates starter Paul Maholm, a 13-game loser despite a solid 3.60 ERA. However, he did not do himself any favors the last time he faced the Cardinals and he seeks better results tonight.

The southpaw was tagged for five runs on 10 hits over six innings of loss against St. Louis on July 22, yielding homers to Pujols and David Freese during a four-run first inning.

"Early in the game he was leaving the rubber a little bit early. He wasn't quite getting the ball down as much as he wanted to," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Maholm, who fell to 4-5 with a 3.62 ERA lifetime versus the Cards.

The 29-year-old's defeat to St. Louis began a four-decision losing streak since his last win on July 10 and Maholm has dropped each of his past three starts with a 7.13 ERA in that span. He was touched for four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits over five frames of a 7-2 loss in Milwaukee on Friday.