Baseball is back. The Pirates opened up the shortened 2020, 60-game “15k” season Friday night in St. Louis to meet the Cardinals. Joe Musgrove took the hill for Pittsburgh, while Jack Flaherty was on the bump for the birds.
While Greg Brown, John Wehner, and Robby Incmikoski discussed pregame considerations, video played of the four-man umpiring crew meeting at home plate, along with new Pirate manager Derek Shelton and Cardinal manager Mike Shildt, all wearing masks and keeping some space between each other. Indeed, baseball is back, and as the games progress, we’ll get used to these sights, but right now, things still seem strange.
Now to the good stuff.
Flaherty and Musgrove both finished off the first inning in just eight pitches. It took the former until the third inning to pick up his first strikeout, then picked up another with a well-placed fastball at the knees on a 3-2 count to Jacob Stallings.
The first hit of the game for either team came in the bottom of the third inning when Cardinals’ left fielder Tyler O’Neill short-armed a curveball near the letters into the Pirates’ bullpen, putting the Cardinals ahead 1-0.
The Pirates got their first base hit of the night (and season) on a Kevin Newman single – a ball that was lofted softly and which landed in shallow centerfield. It was quickly erased on a 4-6 fielder’s choice during the course of a botched double play attempt in which shortstop Paul DeJong couldn’t find the handle on the ball. After an Adam Frazier single into left, Josh Bell flew out to right before Colin Moran struck out.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Dexter Fowler extended the St. Louis lead with a solo home run to right, making the score 2-0. After a flyout and then strikeout, we had our first wild play of the season when Kolten Wong lined a ball into the right-centerfield gap that neither Jarrod Dyson nor Guillermo Heredia could get to.
After Dyson retrieved it and threw it in, the ball couldn’t be handled by Moran at third while Wong was en route to the bag. Musgrove retrieved the loose ball and unloaded a throw towards home while falling down. Stallings fielded the throw and dove back towards the plate to tag Wong out, thus concluding inning number five.
Musgrove’s night ultimately ended before he could get out of the sixth inning. He managed 5.2 innings, surrendering five hits and three earned runs. He issued three free passes and struck out seven. The athletic righty pitched well most of the night, and prior to the sixth inning, he had really only made two mistakes, which were the two solo home runs.
In the top of the seventh, the Pirates were finally able to break through against Flaherty. A series of singles resulted in a bases loaded situation. After Heredia struck out, Stallings punched a ball through the hole between second and first into right field. Pittsburgh plated a pair before Flaherty fielded a ball in front of the plate off the bat of Dyson and threw to first to conclude the top of the seventh.
Although Musgrove’s third surrendered run came on Clay Holmes’ watch, Holmes himself didn’t give up a run, pitching 1.1 innings in relief.
Ryan Helsley set down the Pirates one, two, three in the eighth. Trouble was brewing when Richard Rodriguez’s name was announced as the Pirates’ relief pitcher. After a single by Goldschmidt, I turned to my wife and said, “The Cardinals will score this inning.” In a show of prescience, DeJong followed that prediction up with a two-run shot into the seats. Rodriguez got the next three outs with minimal problems, but the damage had been done, as they say. Cardinals up 5-2.
Kwang Hyun Kim made his major league debut in a bid to close down the game for the Cardinals. Bell kicked things off with a ball that was hit hard right at third baseman Tommy Edman. The ball came off the bat at 103 mph, according to Baseball Savant, but was ultimately ruled an error by the official scorer. Colin Moran followed up the E5 with a double into the right field corner, putting runners on second and third for Jose Osuna. He grounded a single up the middle, scoring both runs and making it a 5-4 game.
After Heredia flied out to right, Stallings followed it up with a double play. Alas, the Pirates comeback attempt in game one of the season fell short. On the bright side, Musgrove was effective. He was actually better than his line suggests. As for the bats, they continued to try to battle against a very effective Flaherty, eventually tagging him for a couple runs. It is Opening Day, so my perspective is still a little rosy. We’ll see if that changes.
Game one of 60 is in the books. The Pirates fall to 0-1 but will be back at it again tomorrow afternoon at 2:15 ET. And no matter what happens this season, we’ll always have the Wong-Musgrove-Stallings play.