PITTSBURGH – It was a game of missed opportunities and costly mistakes for the Pirates, as they lost to St. Louis 3-0 and have fallen to four games back in the Central division with five games remaining.

“We didn’t meet the demands of the game tonight,” Clint Hurdle said afterwards.

The Pirates offense wore out the base paths throughout the night with the some assistance from the Cardinals’ pitching staff – the Cardinals issued ten free passes, including at least one walk in all but two of the innings. The Pirates loaded the bases four times in the first seven innings and had a base runner at third base with less than two outs twice. However, they were unable to capitalize, stranding an astonishing 16 base runners and batting 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

Behind another stellar outing by J.A. Happ, the Pirates held control of the game throughout the first six innings. Happ dominated the Cardinals, cruising through six innings and only allowing one base hit in a tidy 58 pitches. Unfortunately for Happ, his night ended prematurely. Hurdle opted to pinch hit for him in the bottom of the sixth when the Pirates had runners on first and second base with two outs. They couldn’t scratch a run across, and Happ was not able to factor in the decision

“It was for the greater good of the team there,” Happ explained. “Probably a tough spot to be in. That’s just the nature of being a starting pitcher. It’s the manager’s call and I totally understand it.”

The games remained scoreless until the ninth inning, when Mark Melancon allowed a single to Matt Carpenter, who then scored from first on a base hit to right-center field by Jon Jay. Gregory Polanco allowed the ball to skip past him when he approached to make a throw back into the infield, and Carpenter scored easily. Mark Reynolds followed that with a two-run homer, giving Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal all he would need to secure the victory.

 

Tough Night for Gregory Polanco

Gregory Polanco had a game to forget. After leading off the fifth inning with a double, Josh Harrison followed by tapping a groundball to the left side of the infield. Polanco aggressively tried to move to third base, and shortstop Jhonny Peralta flipped the ball over to a retreating Matt Carpenter at third, who tagged Polanco for the first out of the inning.

Then in the ninth inning, Polanco’s error on Jay’s routine base hit to right field led to the Cardinals’ game winning run. Polanco raced to the ball and looked like he was gearing up to make a throw to third base in attempt to get Carpenter, but the ball bounced over Polanco’s glove, allowing Carpenter to coast to the plate for the game’s deciding run. It’s a credit to Polanco, however, who made himself available afterwards and made no excuses for his mistakes.

“Just dropped it,” Polanco said. “It bounced maybe to the right and that’s it.”

Still Hope

The Pirates will need to win the remaining two games of this series, and hope that the Braves help them out when St. Louis goes to Atlanta to close out the season later this week. It’s a daunting task, but the Pirates have not ­­­conceded the division just yet.

“Season ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” Josh Harrison said with a wry smile after the game.

Charlie Morton will look to rebound after his recent rough outings tomorrow night against the Cardinals, while St. Louis will counter with their staff-ace Michael Wacha.

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42 COMMENTS

  1. Amazing how fickle we are, noise after a loss is deafening and silence after a win (or string of wins) is ghostly. Appreciate what we have and enjoy, it’s very enlightening. Hurdle is a great manager however unorthodox he can be. My memory stirs very quickly to a not so distant past of nightly embarrassments. Analyze, add insight and scrutinize as many of you peacefully embrace, keep your stones in your pockets. It’s more fun.

  2. Now people are saying Pedro should be batting higher in the order? …how the worm has turned. 6 or 7 is just perfect for him. 4 or 5? Do you want me to beat you over the head with data on that one?

    • I don’t think anyone is saying permanently, but against the Cardinals? Absolutely.

      Whether or not you buy into him actually being better against the Cards or not (I don’t), fact is that they pitch him like it. If they’re going to keep putting him on base, yes, you sure as hell better take advantage of it. Burying him at 7 with only the slim hope of Jordy coming through against RHP isn’t the way to do it.

      • Excellent rational observation, taking into account two of the important tenets in life: 1) there are exceptions to every rule; 2) perception is reality.

        Cards fans fear two players more than any other: Pedro and ARam. Some of that has to bleed into what the Cards themselves believe.

  3. Hurdle needs to sit Polanco and play Buxton in right field the remainder of the season. Polanco is no MLB outfielder, my 14 year old son would have made that play last night. If it was just an anomaly it would be ok but he is a klutz and cannot get out of his own way. He is going to keep doing this just like he has all season. I

    • Polanco has a strong arm, but has really bad hands and is not a good fielder. And running the bases, he should have learned these things in Little League. He needs to go to Instructs this year and try to learn these things, and if the improvement is not dramatic, then trade him next year as Pirates have plenty of OFs coming on strong in minors. Cannot keep a guy this bad in the lineup.

  4. Last night, and often before, the entire Pirates’ lineup showed no clue to “situational offense” – to simply hit the ball into an open hole in the infield defense.

    OTOH, the Cardinals’ initial run scored on a soft single through an opening in the infield – perfect example of situational hitting. Carpenters’ leadoff single was a soft single into right field.

    The Bucs showed situational offense in the two exciting wins pre-All Star break, against the Cardinals. Bottom line, when the situation calls for a simple single, stroke the ball to an opening in the defense. Watch this Cardinals’ offense, and how they manufacture runs.

  5. fwiw, if Happ’s agent wants 3/$30, pay the man. I’ve seen enough that at this point the guy is worth every penny of that and that what Happ is doing isn’t all that much a fluke. Yes, he might get lucky on some hard contact, but IMO he’s miles ahead of our current 4/5 starters and, as a LH, will pay more dividends going forward vs. Cards and Cubs. If Bucs aren’t going to pay for Price or Kazmir, Happ is the best LHP FA out there.

    • ESPN analysts did a nice job last night of breaking down the corrections to his delivery since becoming a Pirate and the resulting increase in control, velocity and consistency.
      You are right…………get him signed.

    • 2 months ago, 3/30 would have been ludicrous.

      This is so murky for me. I think they are gonna let him test the market similar to Volquez.

      Not saying your wrong at all, I’ve just always believed if it’s too good to be true it probably is,

    • Speaking of Kazmir, he himself only got 2/$22m following a much better contract year at the age of 29. Francisco Liriano got only 3/$39 following *two* significantly better seasons at the age of 30.

      JA Happ has spent his career struggling to hold a spot in a Major League rotation. JA Happ was traded this winter by a team that had Drew Huchinson and two rookies yet to start a big league game in their Opening Day rotation.

      It will be the ultimate sign of respect for Ray Searage if any club goes beyond two years with Happ. There’s absolutely no way Happ isn’t fighting for a spot in a big league rotation next April if it weren’t for these last two months.

  6. It appeared to me the Pirates played tight last night. Especially with runners in scoring position.

    For example, bottom 2nd 0-0, Marte on 3rd and Walker on 2nd, Cervelli up with no outs and count is 3-0. Now I know “the book” calls for Cervelli to take in that situation, but if your team is 3 games back with a week to play, the book goes out the window. Sure enough Lynn floats a 92 mph meatball down the middle of the plate knowing Cervelli isn’t going to swing. And sure enough he lets the easiest pitch to hit all night just fly on by.

    I’m convinced if Cervelli swings at that pitch, Pirates score at least one run and probably more in that inning and end up winning the game.

    This is no time to play not to lose. Have to apply the screws to the Cards and step on their throat when given the chance.

  7. Lets not make the same mistake that was made last year, trying to win the division. It is over. Sit the entire team for three games and rest them. Get the pitching in order to face the cubs. Forget about finishing second as it is meaningless except to the fans who want to come to the game. Prepare to beat the Cubs and then move on to the Cards. Maybe with a little dam luck and Pedro getting a hit instead of a pop up or strike out the Bucs can win and move on to the Mets who should beat the Dodgers.

    • The pitching is in order for the playoffs. And that’s exactly why Bucs should still try to win out. Because this year, if it does come down to a tie with the Cards, Cole goes in game 163 vs Cards and Liriano faces the Cubs in either the WC or game 1 of NLDS. That’s a big difference between now and last year.

  8. Bottom of the order last night reminded me of 2014, except that it was Alvarez not getting anything to hit instead of Ike Davis doing everything in his power not to swing until absolutely forced. Empty walks in front of Jordy Mercer and the pitcher, neither of whom can hit right handed pitching.

    If the Cards are going to give the Pirates free base runners by walking Alvarez, which they’ve clearly shown they will do, then position him so that the club has a chance to capitalize, for goodness sake.

    That being said, I’ll back the skipper for the most part last night. If Josh Harrison is anything close to the baseball player they extended less than one year ago, he *should* have been a great matchup in place of 39 year old Aramis Ramirez less than one month from retirement. Better defense, much better base running against a weak battery, and facing a pitcher who lives in the zone with fastballs. My goodness, if that isn’t exactly the type of situation where Harrison should thrive I don’t know what is.

    Also didn’t hate pulling Happ, although I can’t imagine what logic could be used to justify Morse over Ramirez there other than “best pinch hitter on the team” narrative. Somebody who argued with me this spring over that narrative justifying Corey Hart’s place on the club can remind us how that usually works out.

    Hurdle even used Watson and Melancon in the tie. Played it like playoff baseball, relying on hitting matchups and bullpen strengths. Players just simply did not execute. Maybe those minor errors within the greater decisions cost the game; certainly worthy of argument. But I thought Hurdle put the club in a position to win.

    • NMR,
      Totally disagree with you on Harrison over Ramirez. It changed the entire dynamic of what has been working, forcing Marte into the cleanup spot instead of Ramirez. Harrison has not been as productive as last year offensively or defensively, and the Ramirez retirement has nothing to do with a must-win game. Sitting a clutch, proven performer had a ripple effect on the strength of the batting order, and was a gift to the Cardinals every bit as bad as the Polanco gaffes.

      • Harrison absolutely crushed the ball to gap in 7th inning. Unfortunately it needed to fly 3 more feet to get past Bourjos, one of the best defensive CF in MLB. If that ball finds grass, he scores on Cutch base hit and the game may end differently.

      • Strip away the “clutch, proven” narrative and you’re left with a below replacement level ball player in the twilight of his career. As it stands, I really can’t disagree with your preference on playing Ramirez, but that has much, much more to do with how far Harrison has fallen than what Ramirez has left in the tank.

      • Uh oh…there’s the clutch word. Let it go. Marte wasn’t forced into the cleanup spot. He has played there plenty and has been on fire. There is a lot of myopic Monday morning qb’ing going on here.

        • With Kang out you don’t rest your only other cleanup hitter in the biggest game of the year. If Clint had to have Harrison he could have played second base. Cards pitched around people because they were comfortable challenging the bottom of the order.

    • Sadly Mercer didn’t get the big hit last night…he has been on a streak. I would say it was just a night of bad luck if so many opportunities weren’t repeatedly missed. Too many chances. By the third time you have bases loaded in a 0-0 game playing for the big inning no longer matters. You have to squeeze, sacrifice or do whatever it takes to get up 1-0 or 2-0. So many chances to put pressure on them missed.

  9. I would’ve not pulled Happ so early and I would’ve pinch hit Ramirez for Alvarez against Seigrist. How many at bats did they have with the bases juiced? 5? 6? I don’t know if I’ve seen a more frustrating game.

  10. This is BS. They will have plenty of time to rest in 7 days when Arietta shuts us down again. 
    Ramirez must be in the line up in what amounts to a one and done game. 
    And I also don’t understand batting Pedro 7th with NO protection. 
    Methaney is no dummy, Pedro got NOTHING to hit and our worst hitter performed like it. 
    This is why Hurdle will never get this team over the hump. Micro managing BS.
    You don’t manage these types of games like the grind of the regular season. It’s not the same. I heard Joe Madden talking about it the other day and he is 100% right. 
    Your most experienced RBI producer MUST be in the line up. 
    Give me Joe Maddon/Methaney any day over Hurdle.

  11. Here’s a positive thought on the 1% chance Bucs have to win division. It’s supposed to rain from 11am today through 8am tomorrow. Both teams have Thursday off. If the game is made up Thursday, it only makes sense that Hurdle skips Morton and goes with Cole and Liriano. Assuming Bucs win both those games, it puts our fate in Atlanta’s hands.

    Atlanta should be pitching Teheran and Miller in the first two games. Teheran could win. And the Braves owe Miller about 150 runs of support this season, so they could erupt for 20 runs. We have Morton – who does well vs Reds – and Locke, who’s decent at home. Then it all comes down to the last day. And we have JA Happ.

    It’s the longest of long shots, but let the rain come today.

  12. Rediculous that Alvarez isn’t hitting either 5th or 6th. His record against the Cardinals demands that he’s involved higher as protection and to have protection for him. Hurdle cost the team the game with that lineup. Yes I’m aware of the other failures, but that lineup change likely makes the difference in runs or not.

    • What is also ridiculous is not starting your only proven cleanup hitter in the biggest game of the year. Ramirez. It is one thing to debate the issue if Kang was in the lineup…….but Hurdle sits 386 career homeruns, 38 against the Cards(by far the most among active players) and a proven RBI machine. Near record futility last night on producing runs. You can bet that team isn’t waking up this morning happy that Clint decided to stick by his plans to keep Ramirez “fresh.” Who do you think the Cards would rather face ………..Harrison or Ramirez? All the walks show they decided to challenge the latter half of that lineup, considerably weaker without a proven clutch performer in the middle. If we produce something early Happ would never have been pulled. Once again we hand the Cards a game.

        • He was robbed of a triple last night in the collision. That was a terrific catch and amazing that he held on to it.

        • My only defense of Harrison is the wrist injury. Could have sapped some of his power. I thought last year was a fluke and worried about him as a player that hits under .290 because he does not draw walks. I do think he is somewhere in between this year and last year’s stats but he leans closer towards this year’s. He definitely has more power than what we saw this year. I always have had issues with how hurdle manages an offense. I’m not saying sacrifice and squeeze all day but I would like to see them force the issue more…like the Cards seem to always do. If Mark freakin Reynolds beats the Pirates one more time I am gonna throw up.

          • The wrist couldn’t have helped, I’ll give you that, but you wanna see something scary? Compare Harrison’s spray charts between this year and last, looking specifically for extra base hits.

            Last year he had something like six home runs and more than a dozen doubles down the left field line. Demolished inside pitching. This year, not so much. Worse, his average fly ball went 278′ last year; this year, it’s *still* 277′.

            Batted ball distance certainly isn’t the end-all of power judgement, but it sure does say something. The fact that Harrison is hitting the ball just as far leads you to wonder if he just got lucky with placement last year. He’s got *some* additional power in there, but nobody should expect him to be putting up anything close to league-average numbers in that department going forward.

  13. I was “bad” fan last night. Split right after Reynolds HR. I was disgusted with how that game played out and the inability to come through when it mattered. I was annoyed that Sofield held Marte on third vs Piscotty but sent him vs Heyward (granted, he had to with Happ on deck, but running on Piscotty was a much higher chance of success). Polanco running into an out on third and muffing Carpenter’s hit (compounded with Cutch muffing it also).

    There was just a bad foreboding after all those opportunities vs Lynn went by the board. I told my wife in the 7th that Melancon would lose the game. Which is nothing against MM, it was a simple observation that the Bucs let the Cards off the hook again and again and it was inevitable the Cardinals black magic would strike in the 9th.

    I understand Hurdle’s rationale for taking out Happ, but I disagreed vehemently with it. Happ was having a game for the ages as far as Pirates history goes. Bucs only see a game that efficient once every 6-7 years. On a night after Arrieta made Bucs hitters look stupid, it would’ve been beneficial to let Happ keep rolling. I simply think it creates a different dynamic, stats on 3rd time through the lineup be damned.

    • Does not bunt Polanco over to third in the 5th, but opts to pinch-hit for Happ in the 6th? That play where Polanco was thrown out is exactly why to bunt the runner to third with the #3 and 4 batters coming up. Playoff baseball is pitching, defense, and playing for the get-ahead run. Sometimes you just have to play small ball.

      • A competent Major League hitter doesn’t pull a weak bouncer to the left side, and a competent Major League base runner doesn’t try to advance on a ball in front of him.

        Small ball is one thing; what you’re suggesting is Little League.

        • Agreed. And even if the hitter does inexplicably pull a grounder, CH doesn’t expect a second, even more boneheaded mistake in trying to get to 3rd. I can live with the physical errors, but it’s these idiotic mental mistakes that are the most frustrating.

          That being said, I wouldn’t have felt it was “too small of ball” if it were the 7th or 8th inning, but in the 5th inning with the 2 hole up, you’re swinging.

        • NMR: We have had this same conversation on several occasions – sometimes a competent manager does not trust that the best possible result will occur.

          • Except what I suggested is far, far from the best possible result of that at bat. In fact, all that represents is a *minimum* level of competency.

            Best possible result would be Harrison jacking one over the right field wall. Lesser results would include a triple, double, single, or walk.

            None of those options are possible within the Pirate’s control with the sacrifice bunt. The best possible result from that strategy is the least competent result of Harrison putting the ball in play, and a successful bunt is quite obviously far from high probability.

            There’s certainly a place for “small ball”, I just don’t think it’s in that situation.

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