Baseball / Sports

Cards pull off miracle escape

PITTSBURGH -- The Cardinals got their runs early and eventually added to them later, but throughout the game the pitching teetered just enough to keep their lead in peril until the final out.

Closer Trevor Rosenthal couldn't keep the Pirates off base until he helped turn a game-clinching double play with the bases loaded and the tying run trying to race home in the bottom of the ninth. The first four batters of the ninth inning reached base and the Pirates had the bases loaded with no outs before Rosenthal found his groove and got Ike Davis to pop up and Jordy Mercer to skip into the double play for a 6-5 victory at PNC Park.

Swinging a bat dipped in pink for Mother's Day, late-game addition Peter Bourjos struck a two-out RBI single in the eighth inning to give the Cardinals some breathing room that Pittsburgh would threaten to extinguish in the ninth. Jon Jay scored on a wild pitch for the eventual winning run for what became a salvage operation on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball," which was visiting Pittsburgh for the first time since 1996.

The Cardinals return home to start a welcome nine-game homestand, clinging to the notion that home sweet home will give them traction.

The win Sunday night ended their season-opening stretch with 26 of their first 38 games on the road, and it also capped a 4-5 road swing through three cities. Shelby Miller received the win despite complicating his start with four walks and sluggish innings. The Cardinals scored runs directly from one Pirates error, a hit batter and a wild pitch, but also capitalized on opportunities that slipped past their bats earlier in the series. Pirates starter Charlie Morton couldn't pitch around a failed double play in the first inning and, as a result, the Pirates lost for the eighth consecutive time when he starts against the Cardinals.

Miller's outing was freckled with four hits allowed and four walks and repeated visits to the mound. Catcher Yadier Molina, shaken off a pitch call several times, visited Miller as innings started to shift on him. Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist trotted out to talk with the young righty. In the fifth inning, manager Mike Matheny marched out to the mound, and there was clearly no talking with the righty. Matheny spoke to him. ESPN's camera showed Matheny sternly talking to Miller in the cadence of a silver-screen drill instructor.

The content wasn't clear.

The tone was hard to miss.

Miller had just walked the leadoff batter for the inning and he continued to nibble around the strike zone despite the four-run lead early and a 4-2 lead entering in the fifth. Miller would have two of his four walks in that inning, inviting trouble from the Bucs before retiring the middle of the order to quell the threat.

It took Miller 96 pitches to get through 51/3 innings, and he didn't have an inning cleaner than the first inning. When he could have been aggressive with the gift lead he labored.

The Pirates took their first big chomp out of the Cardinals' lead in the fourth inning when Miller walked first baseman Davis. The next batter, shortstop Mercer, a .191 hitter, lifted a 1-1 pitch into the seats. Mercer's first homer of the season cut the Cardinals' lead down to two runs. Miller was gone when the Pirates made their next move to match the Cardinals' four first-inning runs. In the seventh, a single by Gaby Sanchez and two-out strike by Pedro Alvarez produced a run and put the go-ahead run on base. Having double-switched lefty Kevin Siegrist into the game to get more than an inning of work, Matheny hastily removed him in favor of Carlos Martinez.

The righty got a fly ball to right-center field that Bourjos tracked down to end the threat and keep the Cardinals ahead by one run until he added to it at the plate.

Bourjos did what the Cardinals hadn't so often recently.

After the Cardinals failed to convert on four separate late-inning opportunities to score a runner from second base and tie Saturday's game, Matheny said the team could do more work on situational hitting. It was the hallmark of last year's club, which led the National League in runs. And it was something that they can "work harder" on, he said.

He elaborated Sunday that he didn't just mean more drills.

"I think a lot of it has to do with message," Matheny said. "A lot of that happens in the game, a lot of that happens in between in conversations. We've already made a big deal about those opportunities, continuing to force the issue with how important that is to get returns like this. ... We talk about urgency. It's just those reminders."

As an example, he used Miller. If the pitcher got a bunt down that moved runners over and spurred a rally, then the team should be sure to congratulate Miller every time a run scores after his key bunt. Matheny felt it was valuable that successful situational hitting be applauded long after the batter leaves the box and even as the runners start to score.

"Everybody. All of us. Coaches. Players. We just kind of increase our focus on it," Matheny said, "because I know it's something we can do a better job of."

A better job like they did to open Sunday.

The Cardinals went one for nine with runners in scoring position Saturday and dropped their average in those spots to .229, fifth-lowest in the NL.

They had improved that average with three RBI singles before Morton got a third out of the game Sunday. A hit batter and an error from Alvarez sparked the rally, but the Cardinals converted on the opportunity in ways they had only talked about in recent days. Base hits by Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and Mark Ellis drove home runs, and Ellis connected with a two-out single to put the lead at 4-0. Matt Adams, who has struggled with only four hits with runners in scoring position, lofted a sacrifice fly in the inning to score Craig from third. Craig had hustled from first to third on a base hit to make the run happen.

It was the kind of move that Matheny wanted appreciated in the dugout.

It created runs that followed.

They just didn't create any for several innings after that. Morton allowed at least a runner every inning except for his final inning, the sixth. The Pirates twice turned the double play for Morton they did not in the first inning to keep the Cardinals from packing onto their lead. In the seventh inning, a second error by Alvarez breathed life into the Cardinals' rally only to see it die when Matt Holliday popped out and Craig struck out with two runners on base.

(c)2014 Philadelphia Daily News

Visit the Philadelphia Daily News at www.philly.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus