The starters’ pitch counts were high, but the result was a pitcher’s duel up until the 10th inning, as the Pittsburgh Pirates lost the opening game of the series 6-5 against the St. Louis Cardinals in extra innings on Monday night.
The Pirates picked up right where they left off in extra innings on Sunday, as they loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the first on an Adam Frazier walk, Starling Marte single, and Josh Bell walk. Then, just as they did a day before, the heart of the order came up empty. Colin Moran swung through two middle-of-the-plate fastballs in the low-90s before watching another heater for a called third strike. Corey Dickerson followed him by fouling off a few similiar fastballs before swinging through one and striking out himself.
Trevor Williams cruised through two innings before catcher and eight-hitter Matt Wieters stepped up to the plate to lead off the third inning. He attempted to beat the shift with a bunt, but the ball rolled just foul past third base. A few pitches later the switch hitter (batting lefty) hit a moon shot over the Clemente Wall to put the Cards ahead 1-0. Williams was able to get out of the inning without any more damage, but a single and a walk forced him to cross the 50-pitch mark before the frame was through.
The Bucs put more stress on Daniel Ponce de Leon in the bottom of the third inning, but they were able to come through this time. Frazier walked for the second time but was wiped out this time by a check-swing double play off the bat of Bryan Reynolds. Then Marte singled again, Bell walked once more, and that brought up Moran with a chance to redeem himself. He started the at-bat by swinging through two more fastballs, battled to make the count 2-2, and drove in Marte with a line drive single smoked up the middle. Dickerson grounded out to second to end the inning, but the score was tied at 1-1, and the Cards’ starter had already thrown 86 pitches through three innings.
The score didn’t stay tied for long, as Williams walked the leadoff man Paul DeJong to start the fourth and allowed a sharp line drive single to right by Kolten Wong. DeJong advanced to third on a fielding error by Reynolds. Williams sat down Yairo Munoz, but Wieters struck again, flying out to deep right-center field to plate DeJong. Pinch-hitter Rangel Ravelo came in for the belabored Cards pitcher, and Williams struck him out swinging to keep the score at 2-1.
Michael Wacha took over for Ponce de Leon in the bottom of the fourth, and after a one-out single by Elias Diaz, a sacrifice bunt by Williams, and a third walk in a row by Frazier, Bryan Reynolds exacted some revenge with a two-out RBI double off the right field wall. Unfortunately the ball was hit too hard for Frazier to score from first, and Marte grounded out to second to end the inning, but the score was tied once more at 2-2.
Everything got very quiet for a while after the fourth. Williams was pulled after five innings, allowing two runs (one earned) with seven strikeouts on 90 pitches. As has been the case of late, the bullpen did its job flawlessly. Michael Feliz in the sixth, Francisco Liriano in the seventh, Richard Rodriguez in the eighth, and Kyle Crick in the ninth. The four men did not allow a hit, and faced the minimum number of St. Louis batters in that sequence. Unfortunately, the Buccos bats were just as quiet as the Cards.
The bottom of the ninth started with much of the same, as Newman and Diaz struck out looking on perfect corner pitches by righty reliever John Brebbia. But pinch-hitter Melky Cabrera beat out an infield single on a high chopper to second base. Lefty Chasen Shreve would take over to face Frazier, and Joe Musgrove pinch-ran for Cabrera at first. Shreve hit Frazier with a 3-2 fastball, and rookie Bryan Reynolds stepped up to try and play hero just as he had failed to do on Sunday. Once again, Reynolds couldn’t get it done, striking out on a splitter down below the zone, and the fans at PNC got treated to (or punished with) some free baseball for the second game in a row.
Clay Holmes came in for the top of the 10th inning and had loads of trouble, walking the leadoff man, letting up a single, and hitting the fourth batter of the inning to load the bases with just one out. That brought up the always dangerous Paul Goldschmidt, and he hit a 1-2, down-and-away sinker into the Allegheny River for a grand slam on a couple bounces. All of a sudden the Cardinals had the lead 6-2. Despite loading the bases once more, the Bucs escaped the top of the 10th still down by four runs.
In true Bucco fashion, the bottom of the 10th inning had some excitment of its own. Marte and Bell hit back-to-back doubles to chase Shreve from the game. Then, Jung Ho Kang took closer Carlos Martinez deep to bring the Pirates within one run. Dickerson singled and Newman reached on an error by DeJong to get the tying run on second and the winning run on first with no outs. Diaz tried to drop down a sacrifice bunt, but Martinez made a strong throw to third to nab the lead runner. That brought up the final hitter on the Pirates bench, Jacob Stallings. Just as he’s done in big situations before, Stallings came through, hitting a one-out liner the other way for a base hit. Joey Cora waved home Newman aggressively, and Jose Martinez made a perfect throw from right field to barely get the second out at home. The Bucs challenged of course, but the call stood. Frazier had his chance to make things better, but he flew out to right field to end the game.
Once again, the Pirates find more and more exciting, yet completely heart-wrenching ways to lose in close ball games. After all is said and done, we once again have to applaud this team for never giving up, though just one run at any point before the 10th would’ve won the game handily.
The Bucs will host the Cardinals again on Tuesday night in Game 2 of the four game series. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 pm Eastern, as right-hander Chris Archer will look to continue his recent stretch of good pitching. He’ll face fellow righty Dakota Hudson, and the Pirates will look to avoid a three-game losing streak.