ST. LOUIS -- Not surprisingly, given their recent parched existences, the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates labored mightily to score Friday night at Busch Stadium. Both teams had entered the game having scored under three runs in 11 of their first 23 games, with each team winning just one of those games. And they outdid themselves, combining for one run Friday night.
Less predictable was what Cardinals starter Shelby Miller managed to do for the Cardinals. Given a run in the first inning, Miller, acknowledging he received significant help from his bullpen, made it stand up after he blanked the Pirates for 5 2/3 innings. This was no mean feat inasmuch as Miller had gone 0-5 with a 5.93 earned run average in his first five career starts against Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals' 1-0 triumph before a paid house of 43,193 had much more, though, including brilliant defense by shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who cut short a third-inning rally with an electric stop that started a double play and then trailed a rundown play to make an important tag at third in the eighth inning.
That inning was fraught with peril for the Cardinals after Carlos Martinez hit Starling Marte with a pitch and Jose Tabata singled to right center as Marte went to third. The meat of the Pittsburgh lineup was due up, putting Martinez clearly in an uncompromising spot.
"I don't know if you could get (it) much tougher," said manager Mike Matheny.
Neil Walker hit a hard one-hopper to Martinez, who caught Marte having gone too far down the line and threw to third baseman Matt Carpenter, who initiated a rundown, firing to catcher Yadier Molina. Marte began to scamper back to third past Carpenter but Peralta ranged over from his shortstop position to get to the bag ahead of Marte in time for Molina's return throw.
The key to the play, said Matheny, was that Molina got Marte running hard back toward third base, where Marte had no more time to stay in the rundown, thus enabling the other runners to move up.
"That was executed very well," said Matheny. "A good play by Carlos, to be able to bounce off the mound and make a good feed."
Carpenter said, "Pretty much a textbook play -- the way you draw it up."
The Cardinals then had to face 2013 Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen, but Martinez took care of that by throwing a wild pitch on his second offering to McCutchen. Matheny told Martinez to finish the walk intentionally, loading the bases but freeing themselves from McCutchen.
"(The wild pitch) made the decision easy (as to) what to do," said Matheny. "But we were more concerned whether Carlos was going to pull it back together and make quality pitches."
Pedro Alvarez, who has 13 career homers against the Cardinals, was next, but he is hitting .170 this season and was fooled on a slider by Martinez for a strikeout and the second out. Chris Stewart, who had just replaced injured Russell Martin behind the plate, also struck out on a half swing and the Cardinals' singular run proved to be enough as Trevor Rosenthal nailed down his seventh save in seven tries in the ninth by striking out the side.
It was Martinez who provided the real save, though. "None of us want to get to that spot. He doesn't want to get to that spot," said Matheny, who added that not many pitchers can get out of that spot.
Miller (2-2) had to work around four walks and a hit batter.
"Shelby had some rough spots there but he found a way to get it done when he had to. And then the bullpen did a terrific job," said Matheny.
The Cardinals tried something in the first inning they rarely have done this season, other than pitcher Joe Kelly, who got hurt doing it. They tried to beat out a bunt, which leadoff man Carpenter successfully did with third baseman Alvarez playing back.
"I looked over there and they weren't shifting me, but he wasn't defending it at all," said Carpenter. "I thought to myself, 'Well, if I can get this down, I've got a chance for a hit and make something happen against a guy tough to score on.' And it ended up working out."
It led to the run. Carpenter went to second on Jon Jay's bouncer to first and scored on Matt Holliday's sizzling double into the right-field corner. It was one of three hits by Holliday, who is five for six against Cole.
McCutchen was hitting .308 against Miller when he came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the third. But the Cardinals then made the defensive play they haven't been making lately.
Peralta sprawled to his left to stop McCutchen's smash, spun around and flipped to second baseman Kolten Wong, who completed the inning-ending double play.
"I was fired up after that," said Miller. "If that gets up the middle, two runs score and you've still got one out. That's a situation you don't want to be in.
"I can't say enough about that play."
A Cardinals threat in the third was rebuffed not by a defender but by Major League Baseball technology.
After Jay walked with one out, Holliday singled to right. Jay, having to make sure the ball didn't hit him, then headed toward third where, after a headfirst slide, he initially was called safe by crew chief Ted Barrett as Alvarez applied the tag after taking a high throw from Travis Snyder. But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle challenged and after a review time of 2 minutes 36 seconds while the play was being examined in New York, Barrett took off the headphones and called Jay out, which Matheny said the Cardinals had expected.
Miller, who was bailed out of a sixth-inning spot by veteran sidearmer Pat Neshek, hasn't completed six innings in either of his last two starts, walking nine, but he's pitched a total of 11 scoreless innings in those games.
Miller said, "I haven't been pitching as well as I want to, but still been getting by. I'm walking a lot of people, and that's frustrating as all get-out. Hopefully, the walks (18 in 28 1/3 innings) go away shortly."
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