Baseball is a streaky game. Thanks to an infusion of young arms and a reinvigorated bullpen, the Pittsburgh Pirates are now on a good one. In beating the St. Louis Cardinals tonight, they have won six in a row and nine of their last 11, and have moved a half game behind the Cardinals in NL Central. One win in the next two will keep them there going into a key series against the Chicago Cubs this weekend.
Although he fell behind 2-0 to the Cardinals in four innings of work in his major-league debut, lefty Steven Brault looked strong and confident with an assortment of three pitches--fastball, slider, and changeup--that he commanded for strikes. The Cardinals scored an unearned run in the second on a long fly to right by Stephen Piscotty that caromed off Gregory Polanco's glove and a single by Jedd Gyorko. They scored their second run in the third on a two-out walk by Aledmys Diaz, a stolen base, and a fortuitously placed soft grounder up the middle by Matt Holliday. Brault gave up two more hits in the fourth, a pop single that barely eluded John Jaso in short right field and a single by catcher Brayan Pena, but he struck out Cardinals pitcher Mike Leake to end the two-out threat.
The strikeout was Brault's fifth to go with two walks, both to Diaz, and four hits. Since Brault's pitch count was at 82 and approaching his season high of 90 pitches in a game, Clint Hurdle entrusted the remainder of the game to his suddenly and startlingly reliable bullpen, whereupon Juan Nicasio, Arquimedes Caminero, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon held the Cardinals scoreless for the final five innings.
After Leake breezed through the first four, the Pirates tied the score in the fifth. Their first run scored on a leadoff double by David Freese and a single by Josh Harrison. Seeking to exploit a hitherto underappreciated market inefficiency of 30+ backup catchers named Eric(k), the Pirates tonight got a performance from Eric Fryer, recently acquired from the Cardinals, that presaged an upgrade over his namesake. After Harrison stole second and moved to third on Jordy Mercer's ground out, Fryer singled past the Cardinals' drawn-in infield with one out and tied the game at two. Fryer moved to second on a wild pitch and then to third when Matt Joyce, pinch hitting for Brault, got an infield single on a successfully overturned out call at first base. When Jaso grounded to Matt Adams at first, Fryer executed a perfect extended rundown between third and home that allowed Joyce and Jaso plenty of time to move to third and second before the Cardinals were able to record an out. Although Polanco struck out on three pitches to end the threat, the favorable impression of Fryer lingered; it is difficult to imagine Erik Kratz displaying comparable agility on the base paths.
The Pirates scored three more in the sixth, with Fryer coming up big again. Andrew McCutchen led off with his second hit of the game and moved to second on a ball that hit Pena flush on his catcher's mitt and rolled past him. Starling Marte moved McCutchen to third on a grounder to second base, and Freese poked a single through another drawn-in Cardinals infield to give the Pirates a 3-2 lead. Jordy Mercer's two-out double moved Freese to third, and then Fryer drove in Freese and Mercer with an opposite-field double. The 5-2 lead was sufficient to allow Nicasio to remain in the game and bat so that he could work a second of two strong innings. The other three relievers dispatched the Cardinals easily in the final three, and the Pirates recorded their fifth come-from-behind win in their past six games.