The early innings of the latest battle in the protracted war between the Pirates and the Cardinals unfolded in typically tense point-counterpoint fashion. The Pirates struck first against Michael Wacha in the bottom of the second. Francisco Cervelli opened with a single before Gregory Polanco, fresh from the official announcement of his new five-year contract extension, crushed a triple off the Clemente Wall. Josh Harrison then hit a slow grounder to short to score Polanco with the Pirates' second run.
The Cardinals tied the game in the third. Jonathon Niese, making his first start as a Pirate, gave up a leadoff single to rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz, the first of his career, and Diaz scored after a sacrifice by Wacha, a walk to Matt Carpenter, and a single by Stephen Piscotty. Starling Marte played Piscotty's single in left into two bases, allowing the ball to dribble past his glove for an error that moved Carpenter to third and Piscotty to second. Carpenter then scored an unearned run on Matt Holliday's infield-flare bouncer to short.
The Pirates retook the lead in the bottom of the third when John Jaso singled and came home on McCutchen's double. Cutch, though, was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a single to right by David Freese, thanks in roughly equal parts to Piscotty's great throw and Cutch's graceless slide. Jedd Gyorko, playing second base in place of Kolten Wong against lefty Niese, homered down the left field line with Brandon Moss on base in the fourth to put the Cardinals ahead 4-3.
The Cardinals added a fifth run in the fifth inning thanks to more defensive generosity by the Pirates. Polanco took a poor route to Piscotty's deep fly to the gap in right center and turned it into a triple, and Piscotty scored on an error at short by Jordy Mercer. Niese escaped further damage, though, by striking out Randal Grichuk and Yadier Molina, both of whom had poor nights at the plate. Niese, who left the game after the fifth, was neither particularly effective nor particularly terrible--he struck out seven with one walk and one hit batsman--but his night would have looked a lot better with sturdier defense from his teammates.
In the bottom of the fifth, it was the Cardinals' turn to bestow defensive largesse. With one out, the Pirates loaded the bases on singles by McCutchen and Freese and a walk by Marte, but when Cervelli hit a perfect double-play grounder to shortstop Diaz, the lad booted it instead, allowing McCutchen to score. Wacha, who had by then given up 10 hits to what had so far been a relentless Pirates lineup, departed in favor of lefty Tyler Lyons, who gave up a deep sacrifice fly to Polanco, tying the game at 5.
But then in the top of the sixth, a new game ensued: a six-inning contest dominated by two deep, effective bullpens. Beginning with Polanco's sacrifice fly, six Cardinals relievers retired 18 consecutive Pirates, a run that included nine strikeouts by the suddenly inert Pirates hitters. On the other side, the Pirates bullpen succeeded equally, if less artfully, at keeping runs off the board. Arquimedes Caminero and Neftali Feliz dominated the sixth and the eighth, but both Tony Watson in the seventh and Mark Melancon in the ninth endured tense moments. Lefty Kyle Lobstein made his Pirates debut in the 10th by walking Holliday on five pitches, but he was able to induce an inning-ending double play from Molina and then, in the 11th, strike out the side around a single by Gyorko.
It was good enough to earn Lobstein the win. After McCutchen's fly out in the bottom of the 11th ran the Cardinals bullpen string to 18, Seth Maness in his second inning of work walked Polanco. Harrison's grounder just past Gyorko, now at short, moved Polanco into scoring position after an unsuccessful challenge by the Cardinals on the call at second base. Mercer then singled down the first-base line for the walk-off as Polanco scooted home.
2-0 to start the season against the Cardinals: not bad at all. Let's see what Juan Nicasio can do against the Birds tomorrow night.