Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pirate's Dream Run Ends In 6-1 Loss To Cards

Elimination round on: Adam Wainwright K'ed Starling Marte looking at a curve, then walked Neil Walker on a curve. Cutch struck out swinging at a curve. Justin Morneau wasn't waiting for a hook; he bounced out swinging at a cutter. Wainwright left a few pitches over the plate for the Bucs in that frame, but they still couldn't do anything with them.

Matt Carpenter slapped a two seamer the other way off Gerrit Cole to open for the Cards, and Pedro ate it up for the first out. A popup and grounder later, the Redbirds were back in the field. And that's with getting squeezed by ump Jim Joyce, who's noted for a tight strike zone.

Marlon Byrd started the second with a single to center. But hitting a ball hard isn't a guarantee of good things; Pedro roped a curve above the knees to second, Carpenter gloved it and caught The Byrd off first for a DP. The Cards went into a shift against El Toro, something they hadn't done in the prior games, and it paid off. Russ Martin drilled one just short of the track in center for the third out. The good news is the Bucs squared up on three balls; the bad news is there was nada to show for it.

After a fly and whiff, Cole lost an eight pitch battle to Jon Jay and walked him. And as it always seems to happen, the walk hurt as David Freese lined a two strike hook that was hung over the inside half of the plate, the second of a back-to-back pair, into the Buc bullpen in left to make it 2-0, so the Pirates have to go to work. Freese got a curtain call after adding a splash of little league mustard during his trot sequence; seems a bit early for the dramatics, though we'll see.

The Bucs 8-9-1 hitters went down in order in the third, even though Wainwright is still up in the zone.  St. Louis went down in order, thanks to a slding grab of Carpenter's liner to left by Marte that the Redbird fans applauded; Cole has left some pitches up, too.

Walker's woes continued as he lined out softly to short to start the fourth, hitting not exactly into a shift, but Pete Kozma was cheated toward the middle and left his feet to make the catch on the 2b side of the bag. Cutch and Morneau grounded out, Kozma making another nice stop and throw on Justin's ball.

With an out, Matt Adams went the opposite way for a knock. He lucked out when on a hit-and-run, Molina caught enough of the ball to roll it foul, or Adams would have been dead at second. Molina's luck continued on a dribbler to third; Pedro barehanded it and threw it away down the first base line; it was ruled a single and error, and left Cards at second and third.

Cole was unshaken. With the infield in, Jay bounced one to Walker. Adams was out easily at home, and Martin nearly doubled up Molina at third with a quick snap throw. And give Martin props during the at bat by Jay; he blocked a couple of tough balls in the dirt with the runner staring him down from third. That brought up Freese, and three heaters later, he sat down to keep the Bucs alive, still down 2-0.

The Pirate concern in the fifth is that Wainwright is getting into a groove. Byrd popped out, Pedro was rung up on a strike call that Molina stole, and Martin flew out to left; that's 12 straight Bucs retired on 60 pitches, and just two hits in the past 14 innings for Pittsburgh period. After a pair of K, Cole fell behind Carpenter 3-1 and blazed a meatball that Cutch ran down a step in front of the 400' mark to end the frame. That may be it for him; he's due to hit second in the sixth and the bullpen is loaded and rested.

Clint Barmes had a nice at bat to open the sixth, falling behind 0-2, working the count full and lining a single to left. Garrett Jones, batting for Cole and maybe the last time as a Buc, just missed on a fastball up and flew out to right center. Marte continued the top-of-the-order funk by rolling one right at Kozma to end the inning on a 6-4-3 DP.  That brought on Justin Wilson. With two outs and Holliday on first after a one-out, opposite field single, Wilson walked Molina on six pitches, none a strike. He fell behind Jay 2-0, and the Card right fielder bounced one up the middle that Wilson waved at, and it was 3-0; a walk set up another run. Vin Mazzaro came on to K Freese, escaping disaster when a ball to the right field corner went foul by three or four feet.

The Bucs finally dented the scoreboard with two down in the seventh. Morneau barely beat out a slow roller to second when Carpenter lost his footing between the infield dirt and outfield grass, and Byrd beat out a chopper over second when Kozma opted to go to first rather than take the force. Pedro worked the count full, fouling a 2-1 center-cut fastball , then bounced a bad hopper off the first base bag to plate Morneau and send Byrd to third. Martin went after a first pitch cutter down the middle, but bounced to short to end the frame at 3-1 Cards. Tony Watson climbed the hill and worked a clean frame.

The Bucs went to the bench in the eighth. JT bounced out to third, then Jordy Mercer dropped a bloop into right. Marte hit a soft, tailing liner to second; Mercer was doubled off in a close call; he may have beat the throw back but did wander a step or two too far off for the situation; Matt Adams gave a little happy dance after the call.

Mark the Shark took the hill and effectively ended the Buc season. With an out, Matt Holliday did what he does, chipping a single to right. Adams crushed the next pitch far into the night, and it was 5-1; the Shark Tank has sprung some leaks. He walked Molina, got a force, then Jay blooped a single to left that maybe Marte could run down, but JT couldn't, to put Redbirds on the corners. Jason Grilli came on, and the unstoppable Pete Kozma bounced one past third that Mercer gloved deep in the hole but had no play on, and it was 6-1.  Grilli closed out the inning, and the Bucs were five runs and three outs from vacation.

Walker bounced out, Cutch took one to the wall in center for a loud second out, and then Morneau singled to keep the season alive, if on life support. Byrd followed with another single as Wainwright is struggling to get his complete game in, though at 104 pitches, he's not done yet. pedro was looking for the fences, and Adam tossed him three curves to end the game.

A frustrating finish, to be sure. A pair of two-out walks led to three runs, and the Bucs lined into a pair of DP. But the bullpen's rough September carried over, and the Pirate bats just didn't have a clutch hit in them, which was the only reason Gerrit Cole left the game.

But still, it was a remarkable season. Pittsburgh finally got over the hump and into the playoffs with the fifth best record in baseball, and it was a fun ride. Now to see how they carry over next season; getting there is one thing, but staying there will be another. It should be an interesting off season for Neal Huntington and company as he tries to fill a couple of holes in a pretty solid and young team.

  • Pedro set an MLB mark by driving in a run in each of his first six post season games.
  • Mark Melancon gave up one homer during the season, but two in the playoffs.
  • Neil Walker set a Pirate record for most hitless at-bats to start a postseason series with 19. 
  • The Cardinals are 8-1 in postseason elimination games. The series this year ended up 12-12 between the two teams, with each side winning eight times at their home yard.
  • Neal Huntington told Danny Knobler of CBS Sports that he'd like to keep the 2013 Pirates together for 2014, rentals and all.

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