PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ke'Bryan Hayes spent a portion of the Pittsburgh Pirates' recent West Coast trip poring over videotape and taking copious amounts of swings in the batting cage in hopes of finding something — anything — to help him break out of a funk that dropped him from the leadoff spot all the way to seventh in the batting order.
A slight footwork adjustment showed promise. So did an attitude adjustment, one that requires the sometimes reticent Hayes to be aggressive early in the count.
It's why Hayes was ready when he stepped to the plate in the seventh inning Friday night against St. Louis with two men on and the Pirates down by two. He peered at Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos and hoped for a first-pitch breaking ball.
When Gallegos obliged by throwing Hayes an 87 mph slider that stayed in the zone far too long, the Pittsburgh third baseman responded with one of the biggest hits of his still-young career, a towering three-run shot to the left-field bleachers as the Pirates rallied for a 7-5 victory.
“Man, it was awesome," Hayes said. “I’m sure (teammate Andrew McCutchen) has probably given some even crazier moments (at PNC Park). But yeah, definitely, that was one of my bigger moments I’ve had in my career.”
Hayes finished with three hits while batting seventh for just the second time this season. Josh Palacio followed with his first major league homer as Pittsburgh won for the first time in 23 tries this season when trailing after six innings.
“We kept grinding,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. "I think that’s the one thing we’ve seen about this team is regardless of what happens, they continue to play hard and they did and they got rewarded for it.”
Carlos Santana also had three hits for the Pirates, including a two-run double during a six-run seventh. McCutchen singled twice to boost his career hits total to 1,998.
Yohan Ramirez (1-0) earned the win after striking out Tommy Edman with the bases full in the top of the seventh. David Bednar worked around a two-out single in the ninth by Paul DeJong for his 11th save.
Nolan Arenado had three hits, including his 10th home run of the season, for St. Louis. Paul Goldschmidt added three hits and Brendan Donovan belted a two-run shot for the Cardinals during a five-run third, but St. Louis squandered several chances to pull away.
The Cardinals loaded the bases in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, but failed to score each time. St. Louis left 12 men on in all.
“We had a lot of opportunities to break the game open, but couldn’t come up with the big hit,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said.
Pittsburgh took advantage in the seventh. Tucupita Marcano led off with a double and McCutchen and Jack Suwinski walked to load the bases with one out. Santana followed by lacing a ground-rule double to left to pull Pittsburgh within two.
Hayes stepped in against Gallegos (1-3) and didn't hesitate.
“At the end of the day, Hayes got (Gallegos),” Marmol said.
Marmol: Cardinals 'missed opportunities' to put game away
St. Louis arrived in Pittsburgh surging after a 15-8 stretch to finish May that thrust them into the fringe of contention in the muddled NL Central. The Pirates remained in the mix too despite an 8-18 May that sapped much of the juice from their 20-8 start.
St. Louis has dominated Pittsburgh at PNC Park in recent years and it looked as though it would be more of the same after the Cardinals tagged 23-year-old Pirates starter Roansy Contreras for five runs in the third, all with two outs. Donovan's two-run blast made it 2-0 and Arenado pushed it to 5-0 three batters later.
Contreras lasted just four innings in his return to the rotation following a brief stint in the bullpen, allowing five runs and seven hits and six strikeouts.
St. Louis starter Jack Flaherty worked 5.1 innings, surrendering one run and six hits with a walk and six strikeouts, but the Cardinals' bullpen faltered as Pittsburgh started a season-high nine-game homestand with a bang.
Cardinals: Placed OF Lars Nootbaar on the 10-day injured list retroactive to May 29 with a lower-back contusion. ... LF Tyler O'Neill (lower back strain) has paused all physical activity for 10 days, the third time his rehab has stalled. ... OF Dylan Carlson (sprained left ankle) is expected to begin a rehab assignment at Triple-A Memphis next week.
Pirates: Velasquez (right elbow discomfort) remains in a holding pattern while the team decides next steps. Velasquez exited after two innings in a 5-0 loss to Seattle on May 27.
The series continues Saturday when Jordan Montgomery (2-6, 4.48 ERA) faces Luis Ortiz (1-2, 4.35). St. Louis has lost each of Montgomery's last nine starts.