What felt like an inevitable slide towards ignominy was halted for at least one more day as Pirates’ rookie hurler Dario Agrazal kept the Cardinals off balance all night, en route to a series tying 3-1 victory at Busch Stadium.
Agrazal, making just his fourth major league start after being designated for assignment over the winter, did not strike out any of the 24 batters he faced over six innings, but only five of those connected on a batted ball at 90 or more mph, the hardest struck ball topping out at 98, and for the game averaging just 78.
Cardinals’ starter Jack Flaherty, who defeated the Pirates four of five times he faced them in 2018, was coming off a start in which he took a no-hitter into the seventh, and on this night was back on the same track, having not allowed a hit or run through the first four innings.
But in the top of the fifth Corey Dickerson broke up the no-no with a line drive to right center that rolled to the wall for a double. Four pitches later Kevin Newman rolled a grounder through the right side for a single and the Pirates had a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the inning ot appeared that Lady Luck was conspiring with the Devil Magic to give the Cardinals a win despite the dearth of well struck balls. With one out Harrison Bader lifted a high pop to short left and when Corey Dickerson was late arriving Bader scampered into second with a double. On the first pitch to the pitcher Flaherty Bader stole third uncontested, then Flaherty bounced a ball past third that everyone watching, except for the third base umpire, thought was foul. At second with an RBI double that tied the game, Flaherty tried to steal third himself and was initially called safe, but video review showed he’d momentarily come off the base and was ruled out.
With the score tied, the Pirates resumed their practice of going out in easy innings. In the bottom of the seventh, the Cardinals were poised to once again take the lead, btu suddenly their luck turned against them.
Dexter Fowler led off with a fly ball deep to left that just evaded the reach of Dickerson, landing on top of the padded wall and bouncing back onto the field of play. While Dickerson searched for the ball, Marte attempted several times to pick it up, as Fowler stutter stepped his way around to third base for a triple. After Kolten Wong walked to put runners at the corners with no outs, Agrazal was done for the evening and Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle signalled for the right=hander Richard Rodriguez.
Matt Wieters tapped a ball to Josh Bell at first, who looked Fowler back to third and then bounced a throw to the shortstop Newman at the second base bag for the first out, but destroying any chance of a double play. Bader popped out to Bell in foul territory then Jose Martinez bounced a soft grounder to second and the threat was extinguished.
With one out in the Pirates’ ninth Starling Marte was hit squarely with a fastball, and this time accepted the umpire’s instructions to take first base. Bell then grounded a ball into left center that sent Bell to third. Colin Moran hit a hard grounder to Wong at second, but it bounced away and Moran beat the throw on a head first dive into first base as the lead runner scored. After Corey Dickerson walked to load the bases, Newman hid a hard grounder to the drawn in shortstop who double clutched his throw to second, but after getting the second out there Wong’s throw to first was bounced and evaded the catch of Paul Goldschmidt, allowing Bell to score the third run.
In the bottom of the ninth, despite being only his second save opportunity in three weeks, Felipe Vazquez was the vintage Nightmare, thrwoign 100 to 101 mph heat past O’Neill and Fowler before Yairo Munoz tapped to third to end the game.
The final and rubber match of the series will be Wednesday afternoon at 1:15 p.m. Eastern as the Pirates’ Chris Archer (3-6, 5.42), coming off a strong performance last Friday, is scheduled to face the Cardinals’ Juan Ponce de Leon (1-0, 1.99)