We've seen this game in Busch Stadium before, the one in which the Cardinals beat the Pirates in their last at-bat, mob each other, spray stuff on each other, and jump up and down as the Pirates file slowly and pensively off the field. In their last 18 games in Busch against the Pirates, the Cardinals are 15-3 with seven walk-offs.
If the Pirates were going to win one game in St. Louis this week, this was the most likely. The pitching matchup of Francisco Liriano vs. John Lackey was the most favorable of the series, certainly more so than the Michael Wacha vs. Vance Worley matchup that looms tomorrow. Instead, today's Sisyphean nightmare took frustration to absurd levels.
Liriano was brilliant. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, commanded all his pitches, threw lots of first-pitch strikes, kept his pitch count low, and induced weak ground balls and harmless pop-ups while striking out four. He gave up one run on only three hits, walked three, and left the game after eight innings and 98 pitches. With an ERA of 1.95, he is now one of three Pirates starters with an ERA under 2.00.
The lone run he surrendered scored in the sixth. Peter Bourjos broke up the no-hitter with a solid single to center. Jason Heyward followed with a pinch-hit bloop single that barely eluded a leaping Josh Harrison behind second base in the shift. With runners on first and third and no out, Pedro Alvarez made a great play on a hard-hit ball down the first-base line by Jon Jay, but after retiring Jay at first, he threw home trying to get Bourjos advancing from third. A good throw might have beat Bourjos, but Alvarez's throw went airborne as his throws often do, and the Cardinals, who trailed at that point 1-0, tied the game.
The Pirates batters, meanwhile, despite amassing 12 hits off a wobbly John Lackey and an assortment of Cardinals relievers, left 18 men on base and were a stunning 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Their only run scored in the second. Gregory Polanco hit a bloop single with one out and stole second, advancing to third when Yadier Molina's throw hit him in the leg. Josh Harrison drove him home with a single through the drawn-in infield, and the Bucs had the lead. But after Neil Walker singled, putting runners on first and third with two out, Starling Marte struck out on an off-speed pitch way outside of the strike zone.
From there, the frustration mounted and compounded, and rallies in the fifth, sixth, seventh, ninth, 10th, and 11th innings all failed. The ugly numbers that will define this game--18 runners left on base, 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position--were achieved with roughly equal contributions from ineptitude and misfortune. The Cardinals, though, as they often do when they play the Pirates at Busch, had fortune working in their favor in the 11th. They won the game on a grounder through the infield by Pete Kozma, a high chop over Pedro Alvarez's head by Jon Jay, and a sacrifice fly by Matt Carpenter, whom Clint Hurdle allowed to bat against Jared Hughes despite Hughes's propensity for inducing double plays and on-deck hitter Matt Holliday's propensity for hitting into them.
After the past two Pirates games, it may be therapeutic to reread what former Rockies General Manager Dan O'Dowd said to the Tribune-Review yesterday. "Baseball is a game of skill and luck. Early in the season, luck plays a much larger role than skill in a lot of cases. But, as the season goes on, skill takes over. The Pirates are a very skilled club."