For the fifth time in their first ten head-to-head contests, extra innings was needed between St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
For the second time in consecutive nights, the Pirates rallied back from an extra-inning deficit in dramatic fashion to defeat the Cardinals, and are heading into the All-Star break only 2 ½ games out of first place in the NL Central.
Francisco Liriano pitched 6.1 innings, giving up two earned runs while allowing five hits, walked four, and struck out six. But Liriano’s biggest contribution came at the plate, when he roped a single in the second inning to the right field wall, scoring Francisco Cervelli and Gregory Polanco to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
“I knew they were going to throw a first-pitch fastball, so I was ready to swing on the first pitch,” Liriano explained after the game.
But as usual between these two evenly matched clubs, no lead was safe, as Johnny Peralta belted a Liriano slider into the left-field bleachers in the third inning to tie the game at two. Liriano was able to settle in after Peralta homered, retiring 12 of the next 13 batters, and pitching into the seventh inning for the eleventh time this season. After a strikeout of Mark Reynolds to start the top of the seventh, Liriano allowed a single and walk, and was lifted from the game to a roaring standing ovation from the Pirates’ faithful. Jared Hughes and Antonio Bastardo each recorded an out to close out the seventh inning.
The Cardinals tied the game at three off of Tony Watson in the top of the eighth inning. After a scoreless ninth, the Pirates and Cardinals once again needed extra innings to decide the outcome.
The Cardinals took the lead in the top of the tenth inning after left fielder Randal Grichuk doubled home two runs off of Arquimedes Caminero. Things looked bleak for the Pirates as the Cardinals held a comfortable 5-3 lead with All-star closer Trevor Rosenthal taking the mound.
Before last night, Rosenthal had converted 18-straight save opportunities and sported a daunting 0.67 ERA. Rosenthal was responsible for one of the two blown saves by the Cardinals last night, and the Pirates were able to get to one of the Major League’s best closers again tonight.
Jordy Mercer led off the bottom of the tenth with a bloop-single to left field, followed by two quick outs by Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen. Then, two-out lightning ensued at its finest, with three straight singles by Starling Marte, Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli to tie the game at five. Pinch-hitter Travis Ishikawa was then walked on four pitches, loading the bases for Gregory Polanco. Polanco, who had already produced two game winning hits this week, capped off a tremendous week with a line drive single to right scoring Kang to win the game.
Key Moment: There are so many key moments to choose from in tonight’s game, but this play in the top of the tenth cannot be overstated. The Cardinals loaded the bases on Arquimedes Caminero by way of two singles and a hit batsman. Randal Grichuk then ripped a Caminero fastball into the right-center field gap that easily scored pinch-runner Pete Kozma from third and Yadier Molina from second. Mark Reynolds tried to score from first base on the play, but a quick relay from McCutchen to cut-off man Mercer, who then fired a strike to Cervelli, nailed Reynolds at home for the second out. Peter Bourjos then lined a ball up the middle that looked like a sure base hit, but Neil Walker made a diving catch to strand the runner at second base, keeping the Pirates deficit to two runs heading into the bottom of the tenth.
Player of the Game: Francisco Liriano: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 6 SO – 1-for-2, 2 RBI
**What an unbelievable home stand for the Pirates, who finished 8-2 and cut the Cardinals division lead to 2 ½ games in the process.
“We finished strong. We continue to pour everything out there – it’s coming from all over the place,” Hurdle said after tonight’s comeback win.
The production seems to be coming from someone different every night, whether it’s from team-MVP Andrew McCutchen, or a depth bullpen arms such as Deolis Guerra. The best teams seem to get production from all 25 players on their roster, and the Pirates have been receiving that production over the last two months.
The Pirates schedule is not easy coming out of the break after they face Milwaukee for three. They follow that with three on the road against the AL-Central leading Kansas City Royals, four at home against the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, and two against the surprising Minnesota Twins.
** Is Gregory Polanco finally turning the corner? He had three hits tonight, including two off of lefties, and now has an on-base percentage of .362 in July. Polanco seems much more comfortable at the plate, and has been putting up a ton of quality at-bats over the last week – he has seven walks in the last six games.
**Starling Marte says that he still feels some pain in his side, but he is getting better everyday. Marte is looking forward to taking full advantage of the four-day break, and believes it will give him a chance to start the second-half fully healthy.
**Just how evenly matched are the Cardinals and Pirates? They have split the first 10 decisions, with a cumulative score of 39 to 38 in favor of the Cardinals. The Cardinals are tops in baseball with a 2.67 ERA, while the Pirates are second in baseball with an ERA of 2.84. The Cardinals have scored 355 runs this season, while the Pirates have scored 356.
These two clubs face-off nine more times this season, and if the first ten match-ups were any indication of what’s to come…Buckle Up.