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STL@PIT: Alvarez hits another homer to extend lead

PITTSBURGH -- At 9:20 p.m. ET, the skies to the west sparkled from riverside fireworks. Inside PNC Park, at the exact same moment, the Pirates were firing off their own sparklers.

First Pedro Alvarez, for the second time in the game, then Travis Ishikawa, for the second time in two years, detonated long home runs in the prolonged fourth inning.

For the crowd of 23,342, it marked the true start of this 2014 season, because now the Pirates were flexing their muscles, and they were doing so against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In a game that started an hour and five minutes later than scheduled because of a passing rainstorm, the Bucs got in the first punch in this year's heavyweight National League Central bout, and it was an uppercut, a 12-2 triumph of power, defensive flash and Gerrit Cole.

"We jumped on them pretty good. That's really all you can say," Cole said. "You can't say enough about how good that lineup is. I'm glad I was able to get this one under my belt."

Cole, the first Pittsburgh starter to earn a victory, has carried the team on a few occasions in his first three months as a Major Leaguer. That, after all, was the running 2013 theme, a pitching staff that had a sputtering offense's back.

Friday night, however, it was the other way around. A 16-hit attack, led by Starling Marte's three but including contributions from every starter and two pinch-hitters, paved Cole's easy street.

"We hope it's contagious," said manager Clint Hurdle, hoping it was not only a 24-hour virus.

"It's fun to win ballgames," Cole said. "On a night like this when we can play so well as a team, it's a pretty good feeling."

Cole went seven innings on a yield of six hits and two runs, both on Matt Carpenter's fifth-inning home run. Cole walked two and fanned three. He made 108 pitches, which worked out to about 15 an inning, impressing his manager.

"His command was come-and-go," Hurdle said. "To average 15 pitches on a night you're not sharp ... that speaks to his ability to go out there against a good lineup and find a way to get things done when he doesn't have his best stuff."

Alvarez was 1-for-15 in the young season before cranking his first two homers off Shelby Miller. The first, leading off the second inning, was an opposite-field laser into the left-field stands. The second led off the fourth, pulled to right-center.

"He's been patient, sticking to his approach," said Hurdle, who credited Alvarez with a series of solid if not productive at-bats. "It paid off for him tonight."

Two outs later, Ishikawa went over the Clemente Wall for his first big league homer since May 15, 2012, when he was a member of the Brewers.

Touching home and turning toward his third-base dugout, Ishikawa did not see anyone in position to greet him: silent treatment time.

"When I saw there was nobody on the stairs, I started laughing inside," Ishikawa said. "Usually, you only get the silent treatment on your first career homer, and I know that wasn't my first. But it was great -- it made me feel like they care.

"It was also great because when I hit my first career homer [on. Aug. 17, 2008, with the Giants off Atlanta's Charlie Morton], I didn't get the silent treatment, just regular high-fives. I'll take it now."

Thus down 3-0, the Cardinals served an instant reminder of who they are, and how hard they fall. Miller singled with one out in the fifth, and it turned into a significant bit of revenge when Carpenter followed with a home run that neutralized the Bucs' two solo blasts only minutes earlier.

Carpenter's shot could have done a lot more were it not for the marvelous athleticism of catcher Russell Martin, who had pounced on Peter Bourjos' leadoff bunt, slid to a stop and spun for a nearly blind, yet spot-on throw to first, where Ishikawa did the splits to glove the ball in time.

"I was pretty blown away. It was unbelievable," said Cole, whose immediate reaction was to cover his face with his glove and scream into it. "I don't really know how he made that play. I was like, 'Wow!'"

Who better for Alvarez to get untracked against? The home runs gave him 13 in his career off St. Louis pitching, making the Cardinals his most frequent victims.

The most impressive thing the Cole Train did was jump back on track in the sixth after near derailments in the fourth and fifth innings. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth, then Carpenter went out on him in the fifth. In the sixth, Cole put his foot down for a perfect 11-pitch inning.

"We had him in some spots and he found a way to pitch out of it.," Carpenter said. "He pitched well in those tough spots and we weren't able to bust it open when we had a chance."

The Bucs broke open a tight game with three varied runs in the sixth. The first resulted from the feet, not the bat, of Alvarez -- he reached base by hustling to beat out a double-play grounder, then stole second before scoring on a Martin single with a nifty head-and-left-arm slide.

"The stolen base was key that inning," Hurdle said. "[Alvarez] puts a lot of focus on running the bases, and he's arguably as good a baserunner as we have once he gets on."

Another run scored when catcher Yadier Molina's throw bounced off Martin, who would have been caught in a rundown between third base and home. The third came in on pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez's weak single through a drawn-in infield.

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