The Pirates made plenty of mistakes tonight, and it seems wrong to pin everything on Starling Marte, but the Bucs should have won this game, and Marte's drop of a routine fly ball in the ninth was by far the biggest reason they didn't.
The Bucs were leading 3-2 with Mark Melancon on the hill. No problem, right? Pete Kozma grounded out, and that brought up Daniel Descalso, who hit a fly ball to left. Marte got under it, reached up with one hand ... and it bounced off the heel of his glove. Descalso wound up at second. Melancon struck out Matt Carpenter, but after walking Carlos Beltran, he gave up a game-tying single to Allen Craig to send the game to extra innings.
It's too bad, too. There were going to be lessons learned about this game, but I hoped they'd be cool ones, like "Defensive shifts are awesome," rather than dumb ones, like "Catch the ball with two hands."
The Pirates' defensive shifts are awesome, though. In case the role of defense in the Pirates' success this year wasn't clear to you, I present tonight's eighth inning. Bryan Morris entered to protect a 3-2 lead. After getting a groundout and giving up a single, Morris threw a slider to David Freese, who hit it right to where Garrett Jones was standing in right. Then, a single by Jon Jay, the Cards brought in Matt Adams.
Now, we can debate the question of why the Pirates didn't bring in Tony Watson to face either Jay or Adams (leaving aside the question of whether Bryan Morris really ought to be pitching the eighth in a one-run game in general). Instead, let's focus on the fact that, apparently on Nick Leyva's last-second order, Neil Walker was standing right here when Adams hit a line drive ... right to where Walker was standing. I was watching at that moment, and I hadn't seen the shift before the play. The catch took a second to even register, because it didn't occur to me when the ball was hit that a catch might even be a possibility. Shifts for the win!
Or not for the win, as we'll see. Urgh. Minutes later, Marte dropped his fly ball, blowing what might have been yet another easy inning for Melancon. In the 10th, Vin Mazzaro battled through a throwing error by Gaby Sanchez, striking out Kozma and getting Descalso with the bases loaded to send the game to the 11th, when the Cards rallied again, this time off Jeanmar Gomez, but couldn't score.
This time, the Cardinals had men on first and third, and the Pirates pulled Josh Harrison, who had been playing right field, into the infield, giving the Pirates five infielders as opposing pitcher Seth Maness came to the plate. Sure enough, Maness hit a grounder, and Harrison became part of an ultra-rare 6-9-3 double play. Shifts for the w ...
Again, no. In the 13th, Andrew McCutchen (who'd homered earlier in the game -- so much earlier, in fact, that it felt like another game entirely) led off with a single, then headed to third on a single by Pedro Alvarez. Russell Martin then hit a grounder to shortstop, and McCutchen stayed at third. Replays showed he clearly would have been safe, given his speed, if he'd just charged home. Then Maness intentionally walked Clint Barmes, and got Josh Harrison to ground into a double play.
The following inning, Jon Jay hit a ground ball straight at Barmes, who couldn't make a play on it. Jay then swiped second, and came home on a single by Adron Chambers, just beating Marte's throw to the plate. First Marte, then Barmes -- two of the Pirates' best defenders made big, big mistakes with the glove.
This would have been an excellent game to win, but let's remember that the Pirates still have a two-game lead on the rest of the division. This was an incredibly frustrating loss, and I'm sure Marte feels like garbage right now. But there's another game tomorrow.