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Bullpen implodes, Cardinals win 8-4 and deny Pirates sweep

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers
Randal Grichuk
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For awhile it looked like the Pirates would make use of their brooms, holding a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the sixth, but Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio and Jhan Marinez would allow five runs to score before they could close out the seventh, en route to an 8-4 loss to the Cardinals.

Chad Kuhl was throwing strikes (65 of 99) and hard ones at that, several times reaching 99 mph - but tossed 31 of those pitches in the bottom of the second as the Cardinals strung together four singles (two in the infield) to plate two runs and take a 2-0 lead.

The Pirates roared back against Mike Leake the very next half-inning. Jordy Mercer led off with a walk and was doubled to third by Elias Diaz. After Kuhl struck out, Adam Frazier lined a triple into right-center to tie the game, and then scored the go ahead run on Josh Harrison’s sac fly. They extended their lead to 4-2 in the fourth on singles by Andrew McCutchen and Mercer, the run driven in on yet another sac fly, this time by Diaz.

Meanwhile Kuhl rolled through the third, fourth and fifth and was allowed to go to the mound for the sixth with 88 pitches under his belt. Randal Grichuk, returning earlier in the day from his demotion to Triple-A, was in the lineup at cleanup and then led off the sixth with the longest homer by a Cardinal at the newest Busch Stadium, some 470 feet. After the next batter Yadi Molina lined a double, Kuhl took a seat and on came Tony Watson. With two outs, pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko smacked a game tying ground rule double to right-center, just out of the reach of John Jaso. Watson narrowly escaped absolute disaster as Matt Carpenter ended the inning by flying out to the fence in left with a pair of runners on board.

Tied 4-4, the game still felt in hand, but at that point home plate umpire Chad Whitson squeezed the strike zone for reliever Juan Nicasio. The first batter Tommy Pham walked on a 3-2 pitch at the top of the zone that 86% of the time is called a strike. Then Stephen Piscotty also waked, also benefiting from some close calls. It took nine pitches to strike out Grichuk swinging, but Molina lined a single to right to give the Cardinals a 5-4 lead. After Mercer was charged with an error on Aledmys Diaz’ slow grounder to short, driving in the sixth run, Nicasio was gone after 29 pitches and only one out. Jhan Marinez didn’t fair much better. Despite not being charged with a run, Marinez’ wild pitch put runners at second and third, forcing the infield to play in, which allowing Diaz’ grounder to scoot under Mercer’s glove for a two-run single, setting the final score at 8-4. Nicasio and Marines threw 48 pitches in the inning between them.

Edgar Santana, relegated to white-flag duty, threw a clean eighth with a pair of strikeouts, giving him 9 in 5 23 innings.

John Jaso and Elias Diaz each had a pair of hits for the Pirates.