Jedd Gyorko's eighth inning homer lifted the Cardinals to a 4-3 win over the Pirates on Saturday, keeping  them 1 game behind the Giants in the wild-card race. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

During his first conversation with the media after the Cardinals acquired Jedd Gyorko from the Padres during baseball’s winter meetings last December, he talked about how nice it would be to play “meaningful” games in September.

Games in October aren’t bad either, Gyorko found out on Saturday. Late-season curtain calls can be fun too.

Gyorko got that salute from the fans at Busch Stadium after hitting his 30th homer of the year, which came on a two out, 3-2 pitch in the eighth inning and lifted the Cardinals to a 4-3 win over the Pirates. The win assured the Cardinals they will have something to play for in game 162 on Sunday.

“These are exciting games, there’s no doubt about that,” Gyorko said. “Being a must-win situation, it’s fun to be out there. That’s what we play this game for.”

During Gyorko’s three seasons in San Diego, the Padres never won more than 77 games – which meant Gyorko never experienced a pennant race, or knew how it felt to play a game with the season on the line.

That was the situation facing the Cardinals on Saturday, having to win if they wanted to make certain they would not be eliminated by a Giants' win over the Dodgers later in the day. The Giants did get that win, beating Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers 3-0, to stay one game ahead of the Cardinals.

The day did not start off well for the Cardinals, who fell behind 3-0 five batters into the game on a homer by Jung Ho Kang off Michael Wacha.

Gyorko had a chance to help the Cardinals cut into that lead when he came to bat in the sixth with runners on second and third. He struck out, but the Cardinals rallied on a wild pitch, an RBI pinch-hit single from Matt Holliday and a sacrifice fly by Matt Carpenter to tie the game.

That set up another chance for Gyorko in the eighth, when he benefitted from home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez calling a borderline 2-2 pitch from Felipe Rivero a ball.

“It was a good pitch,” Gyorko said. “When the guy is throwing 101, that’s a pitch you really can’t do anything with and I probably didn’t swing at it because I knew I couldn’t hit it. That’s pretty much what it comes down too.”

Gyorko did swing at the next two pitches from Rivero, fouling off both, before hitting a 100 mile per hour fastball 362 feet into the right-field seats and perhaps becoming another moment to remember If this final week of the season leads to postseason magic later in October.

The Cardinals had to survive a few anxious moments in the ninth, when Seung Hwan Oh gave up to back-to-back singles with two outs, putting the tying run on third base, before getting Pedro Floriman to fly to left for the final out.

So here is the situation with the wild-card race:

The Mets defeated the Phillies on Saturday to clinch the top wild-card spot, meaning they will host either the Cardinals or Giants on Wednesday in the wild-card game.

For the Cardinals to get there, they will have to win on Sunday, and have the Giants lose to the Dodgers to create a tie for the second wild-card spot. That would set up a tiebreaker game between the two teams on Monday at Busch Stadium, with the winner going to New York to play the Mets.

“We’ve just got to go out and keep winning,” Gyorko said. “It’s another must-win game. It’s going to be important for us to come out and play good baseball.”

Here is how Saturday’s game broke down:

At the plate: The Cardinals had six hits plus a walk through the first five innings, but left all six runners on base… Jhonny Peralta got the tying rally started in the sixth with a single, and went to third on a double by Brandon Moss. He stayed there as Gyorko struck out, but scored on a wild pitch, on ball four to Randal Grichuk … Holliday came off the bench for the second time in as many days and delivered the hit that cut the lead to 3-2, and sent Grichuk to third, and he then scored on Carpenter’s sacrifice fly … Diaz just missed a home run in the first inning, settling for a double, but was left on third base.

On the mound:
Wacha was lifted after just one inning, the fourth time this season the Cardinals’ starter worked less than two innings. That happened only twice in the last two years combined … After Wacha left, however, six relievers combined to work eight scoreless innings, allowing five hits and issuing one walk while striking out 12 … Trevor Rosenthal pitched three innings, throwing a career-high 52 pitches to cover the third, fourth and fifth innings. The only other three-inning outing in his career was on Aug. 28, 2012, also against the Pirates, in the sixth game of his career … Oh earned his 19th save.

Key stat: There have been only 42 30-homer seasons in Cardinals’ history and Gyorko became only the 20th player to reach that milestone. The last to do it was Carlos Beltran in 2012 … Twelve of his 30 homers have come in the seventh inning or later.

Of note: The three-run homer by Kang was his sixth against the Cardinals this season, the most by any player … It was the Cardinals’ 42nd come from behind win this year. They are 10-6 when tied after seven innings … Prior to Friday night, Holliday had been 7 for 34 as a pinch-hitter in his career and had no RBIs before hitting the home run on Friday night and the RBI single on Saturday.

Looking ahead: Adam Wainwright will get the start on Sunday, when all games in the majors will begin at the same time, which is 2:15 p.m. in St. Louis. Ryan Vogelsong is scheduled to start for the Pirates.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains