Carlos Martinez (2.57 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 3.35 xFIP) and Jeff Locke (4.31 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 3.90 xFIP) were on the hill tonight for the start of this about-as-important-as-it-gets-in-early-August series.
At the start of the night, the 71-40 Cardinals held a 5 game lead over their yellow-and-black division rivals. While that's a nice lead, the Pirates aren't likely to sit back and accept the first Wild Card consolation prize without putting up a fight for the NL Central championship. The Buccos enter this three game set determined to shrink that gap.
Have we talked before about how El Gallo has completely ridiculous, filthy stuff? We have? Still true. Martinez struck out 8 tonight and did not allow a free pass at all.
He did allow 9 hits however, and by the 5th the Cardinals were on the short end of a 3-1 score.
In the 1st, doubles by Starling Marte and Jung Ho Kang pushed across a run.
Bottom 1, singles by Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta put runners at 1st and 3rd with 1 out for Jason Heyward. He chopped into what appeared to be a 3-6-3 double play, but the Cardinals challenged the play. He was clearly, obviously safe. The double play turned into a run-scoring fielder's choice and a tie score. Randal Grichuk reached on an error by Aramis Ramirez (with an assist by Pedro Alvarez) that sent Heyward to 3rd, but Yadier Molina grounded out to end the inning.
Martinez easily dispatched the bottom of the order in the 2nd. In the 3rd Gregory Polanco tripled off the top of the RF wall. Jason Heyward just missed pulling it down, but was unable to glove it. Carlos was able to get a huge strikeout on Andrew McCutchen, getting him to chase a wipeout slider that broke well outside. But ancient nemesis Aramis Ramirez singled Polanco home off a middle-middle hanger for a 2-1 Pirates advantage.
A walk by Matt Carp and singles by Kolten Wong and Heyward loaded the bases in their half of the 3rd. Not to be outdone by the challenge in the first, Heyward had more first base oddness when he hit a chopper to Alvarez, then neatly avoided the tag when running up line. Unfortunately the Cardinals were unable to cash in on the 1 out opportunity.
Top 4, more recent nemesis Pedro Alvarez smoked a solo home run to deep center. 3-1 Pirates.
But in the bottom of the 5th, the Cards turned the tables. Locke granted walks to both Wong and Peralta to start the inning. Heyward started the scoring, sending Wong home with a single to right. Grichuk moved the runners over to 2nd and 3rd and Yadi sac flied Peralta in. Then Stephen Piscotty put the Cards ahead with a basehit into right center. 4-3 Cardinals!
Carlos' line: 8 IP, 3 ER, 9 H, 8 K, 0 BB, 108 pitches
There was a bit of a scary moment in the bottom of the 8th when Piscotty ripped a comebacker straight at reliever Jared Hughes' face on the first pitch of the inning. Hughes was able to get his glove up in time to deflect the ball, but was nearly dentally compromised.
Trevor Rosenthal locked down the 9th in convincing fashion, striking out the side.
Tomorrow night is game 2 in this doozy of a series. Gerrit Cole (2.39 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 3.00 xFIP) and Michael Wacha (2.92 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 3.52 xFIP) (those are all some pretty shiny numbers, you guys) will be performing their feats of pitching prowess. Game time is 7:15pm Central.