ST. LOUIS (AP) - The St. Louis Cardinals were on the verge of walloping a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher for the second straight game. Then they started swinging and missing.
Erik Bedard avoided a fate like that of A.J. Burnett, who gave up 12 runs in 2 2/3 innings a day earlier. The lefty survived a rocky first inning and struck out a season-high 11, including a team-record seven in a row, and the Pittsburgh Pirates set a club mark by fanning 17 batters Thursday afternoon in a 6-3 win.
"I don't know if we'd have knocked him out, their bullpen had had a lot of use already," manager Mike Matheny said. "But we were one pitch away from really making something happen.
"You look up later and you realize, "Hey, it seems like we're all over this guy and it's 2-0.'"
The Cardinals outscored the Pirates 7-0 in the first inning in the series, and got off to another fast start against Bedard after doubles by Rafael Furcal, David Freese and Allen Craig made it 2-0.
St. Louis had just two hits the next six innings and came up empty with the bases loaded twice, with Matt Holliday hitting a comebacker to end the second and Craig grounding out against Juan Cruz to end the seventh.
"Part of it is you let a pitcher off the hook, he gets through a jam, he finds a rhythm," Matheny said. "We had a lot of chases on the breaking ball. He really slowed down the tempo, kept us off-balance all day."
Bedard (2-4) was pulled after five innings. Pittsburgh relievers kept piling up the strikeouts - the 17 Ks were the most by Pittsburgh in a nine-inning game since 1900, the team said in citing research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
The strikeouts were the most by the Pirates in any game since they fanned 18 Cubs over 20 innings in 1980.
The last time the Cardinals whiffed so often in a nine-inning game was 1989, when they struck out 18 times against the Cubs. St. Louis struck out 19 times in a 20-inning loss to the Mets in 2010.
Pedro Alvarez hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth as Pittsburgh avoided a sweep.
Clint Barmes had a pair of RBI doubles for the Pirates, who completed a 3-4 trip and will have 18 of the next 25 at home to end May. Jose Tabata, a career .343 hitter against St. Louis, added three hits and a steal.
Jake Westbrook (3-2) lost to Pittsburgh for the second time in three starts, giving up four runs in 6 1/3 innings.
"I felt great, I just made really one huge mistake to Alvarez, and it cost us," Westbrook said. "I think if I get a good sinker down in the zone, I get the groundball I'm looking for.
"It was just up. When you make mistakes like that, hurts hurt you like that."
The NL Central-leading Cardinals have won seven of their first eight series, but four times have failed to complete a sweep after winning the first two games.
"You want to complete what you started," Westbrook said. "We haven't seemed to find a way to do that so far this year, but we still won the series."
Bedard was untouchable between the third and fifth, fanning Craig, Shane Robinson, Tyler Greene, Tony Cruz, Westbrook, Furcal and Jon Jay before Holliday singled with two outs in the fifth.
Though four strikeouts shy of his career high, Bedard's total was the highest by a Pirates lefty since Oliver Perez fanned 14 Astros on Sept. 9, 2004.
Bedard, who threw 104 pitches, has won his last two starts after dropping his first four while pitching well without much support. He hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his starts.
Craig hit an RBI double off the base of the center field wall against Joel Hanrahan with two outs in the ninth. The Cardinals had the tying run at the plate before Hanrahan struck out Matt Carpenter.
Jay was 0-for-2 with two walks and a sacrifice for St. Louis, ending his season-best 11-game hitting streak in which he batted .488 (21-for-43).
Notes: Pirates star Andrew McCutchen, who got his first day off Wednesday, left with stomach flu in the fourth. ... Cardinals rookie Lance Lynn is the first Cardinals pitcher to win his first five starts since Bob Tewksbury won his first six in strike-shortened 1994. ... Kyle Lohse (4-0, 1.62) goes for his fifth win tonight when St. Louis opens a three-game series at Houston. Lohse was 2-0 with an 0.60 ERA against the Astros last year. ... Kevin Correia (1-1, 2.42) starts for the Pirates in the opener of a three-game series against the Reds today. ... Westbrook's stolen base in the second was the first by a Cardinals pitcher since Joel Pineiro on April 15, 2009, at Arizona.