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Michael Wacha nearly no-hits Pirates as series heads to Game 5

H.Darr Beiser-USA TODAY

Michael Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth before Pedro Alvarez finally homered, and the Pirates lost to the Cardinals 2-1. The Cards tied the series at two with the win; Gerrit Cole will take the ball for Game 5.

Wacha struck out five batters in the first three innings, throwing as hard as 97 MPH in the process. The Pirates helped him out, swinging at a number of pitches out of the strike zone and not making hard contact with some other pitches that looked fairly hittable. Garrett Jones' awful three-pitch pinch-hit at bat, in which he struck out on an 88-MPH changeup about a foot outside the zone, was one of the worst efforts. But Wacha also was terrific, combining an excellent fastball with a really tough change, and even a curve (which, to my understanding, he doesn't usually throw much) that was effective at times.

Charlie Morton walked four but still managed to keep the Cardinals in check until the sixth, when he gave up a walk to Carlos Beltran and a homer to dead center by Matt Holliday. Alvarez's home run on a 3-1 pitch in the eighth cut the Cardinals' lead in half, but the Pirates couldn't mount any further threat. The series now heads back to St. Louis.

Like most of you, I like the choice of Cole to start Game 5, but I'm not sure it's as slam-dunk obvious as a lot of people have made it sound. A.J. Burnett's season was, frankly, so good that it's probably under-appreciated even by Pirates fans who love him. He struck out batters like crazy, got tons of ground balls, and, to judge by his peripherals, actually deserved better than the 3.30 ERA he ended up with. His struggles in his last outing against the Cardinals are the only black mark against him. Still, Cole's progression throughout the season has been clear -- he struck out 4.1 batters per nine in June, jacked that up to a little over seven in July and August, and whiffed about 11 batters per nine in September. Add that to a terrific performance so far in the NLDS, and I do think Cole is the right choice. If the Pirates had decided Burnett's stuff would return and gone with him instead, though, I wouldn't have argued much with that.