That was an awful way for the Pirates to lose. From dropped fly balls, to missed scoring chances, to standing still at third base, to not taking advantage of near-miraculous bullpen escapes…
But the result of Pittsburgh’s 4-3 extra-innings loss to the Cardinals is very simple: instead of leading the National League Central by four games, they lead it by two games. That is the true result of dropping the series opener at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, as much as fans’ hearts raced and collective blood pressure rose.
Man, did they have their chances though. The greatest role in the Pirates losing was going scoreless and collected only six hits in the final 12 innings.
Andrew McCutchen made his impact on this important series right away. After Neil Walker’s one-out single, McCutchen smashed Adam Wainwright’s cutter opposite field and over the fence for a two-run homer. Next inning, Jordy Mercer smacked another Wainwright cutter just barely over the left-field wall to put the Bucs ahead 3-0.
After needing 50 pitches to navigate the first two innings, Wainwright became far more efficient and effective. He allowed only one runner into scoring position over Innings 3-through-7, getting the benefit of two double plays and six total strikeouts. The Cardinals’ starter became his strong Wainwright self after some early miscues.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ offense chipped away at Charlie Morton, who escaped unscathed from runners in scoring position during the 3rd and 4th innings. St. Louis’ biggest threat arrived in the 6th, starting the inning by hitting three straight singles.
That’s when the game went from normal to weird.
Morton drew the optimal result: a ground-ball double play that scored Carlos Beltran. But Morton could not dance all the way out, giving up a line-drive RBI single to Jon Jay, cutting the Pirates’ lead to 3-2. Still, it was a quality start from Morton (6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 8 groundouts).
Walker led off the Top 8th by hitting a double, but Trevor Rosenthal struck out the next three hitters to strand him. Bryan Morris gave up two singles in the Bottom 8th, but got out unscathed thanks to Walker shifting before the pitch and catching a possible go-ahead line drive in shallow right field.
The rest of this will read like an improved play-by-play:
9th Inning — Cardinals Tie It
After three straight Pirates’ groundouts, St. Louis stepped in against closer Mark Melancon. With one out, Daniel Descalso hit a fly ball to left field, but it hit off the palm of Starling Marte to go down as an error. It ended up being a massive error. Melancon struck out Matt Carpenter then pitched around Carlos Beltran to walk him. Allen Craig lined a game-tying single to right, and it was off to extra innings.
It was an unearned run on Melancon, but it was a blown save nonetheless from Marte’s miscue.
10th Inning — Magnificent Mazzaro
The Pirates could have made it a far less interesting evening by capitalizing on Gaby Sanchez’s leadoff single. Instead a sacrifice bunt and two groundouts frittered it away.
Vin Mazzaro dug himself an impressive hole to start his evening, as he walked leadoff man Matt Holliday on five pitches. Rob Johnson reached on his bunt when Gaby Sanchez’s throw to second base went wide. Jon Jay almost got on base as well, but represented Out Number 1. An intentional walk loaded the bases, and Mazzaro struck out Pete Kozma with a 94-mph fastball and got Descalso to fly out for the daring escape.
11th Inning — The Five-Man Infield
The Pirates got a runner in scoring position with two outs, but Seth Maness struck out Jordy Mercer to extinguish any threat. Then it was time for Jeanmar Gomez to pull his magic trick. Gomez gave up a leadoff single to Matt Carpenter, then threw a wild pitch and gave up a grounder to the right side so Carpenter could get to third base. Intentionally walking Allen Craig brought up the pitcher Maness with a double-play opportunity.
Replacement right fielder Josh Harrison ran in to play the fifth infielder and stood right next to second base. Maness hit a ground ball to the shortstop Barmes and flipped to Harrison who bobbled slightly but recovered to throw to first. The ol’ 6-9c-3 double play gave the Pirates life again.
12th Inning — Boring Six Straight Outs
13th Inning — The Pirates’ Missed Chance
Pittsburgh’s offensive problems came into full focus. McCutchen led off by singling to left and reached second base on a Maness wild pitch. Pedro Alvarez beat out an infield single to put runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs. But when Russell Martin hit a ground ball to the right side of a shifted-in infield, McCutchen held up at 3rd. Right call or wrong, he would get no chance to score. After an intentional walk of Clint Barmes, Harrison grounded to third for the double play.
Another chance for St. Louis: Matt Carpenter roped a two-out double. Gomez walked Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig intentionally to get back to Maness, who he struck out.
14th Inning — No Mas.
The Pirates could only get a Marte walk in the Top 14th, giving the Cardinals a shot again. Jared Hughes struck out Rob Johnson, but then gave up a single to Jon Jay (his game-high 4th hit). Jay stole second base, then Adron Chambers hit a line drive into the left-field grass. Marte picked up the ball and threw for redemption… but Jay slid wide of the tag.
The Pirates’ offense went scoreless for 12 innings. The Cardinals won the baseball game. One baseball game.