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Cards’ Bullpen Blows 4-1 lead and Cards Lose Series Opener to Pirates 9-4

Pirates score 6 runs on 6 hits in the bottom of the 7th, 5 of the hits with 2 out.

St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Going into this opening game of the 3-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cardinal starters had not allowed an earned run in the last four games. Okay, Michael Wacha only served as an opener in the Giants’ game on September 4th, only pitched 2 innings, and took 38 pitches to get through them. But it’s still a cool, if irrelevant statistic. Could Miles Mikolas complete the pentagon, and get through his start completely unscathed? Right in the mix of teams in the first half, the Pirates have fallen apart, going only 17-34 since the All-Star Break. Regardless of what the various outlets say about the Cardinals’ playoff chances, now is the time to rack up victories against struggling teams.

Mikolas did not blank the Pirates, but he only gave up 3 hits and 1 run over 5 innings pitched. Today’s start, his 61st career outing for the Cardinals, was an uncharacteristic one for Mikolas, in that it took him 99 pitches to get through 5 innings. He also walked 4 batters, which was the first time he had walked that many since July 4th, 2018 against the Diamondbacks. Tonight was only the 2nd time in Mikolas’ Cardinal career that he walked more than 2 batters. The Cardinals scored 8 runs in that 2018 game against Arizona to win the game 8-4, and tonight. While it wasn’t his best night, Mikolas gave the Cardinals a chance tonight, as the Cardinals had a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the 7th inning. But the Cards fell short, as 3 different relievers gave up 6 runs on 6 hits in that inning to give the Pirates a lead they would not relinquish.

We also learned tonight in the 4th inning that former Cardinal Chris Duncan, and key contributor to the 2006 World Series winning team, died today from the same brain cancer that took his mother’s life. This, of course, makes the synopsis of the game that follows below completely insignificant, but I promised to write it, and will fulfill that promise.

Pirates’ starter Joe Musgrove was supposed to start tonight, but he was scratched with right foot discomfort, and righty Alex McRae took the hill instead. McRae has been a starter for almost his entire career in the minors and started 22 games for AAA Indianapolis this year. But in the majors so far this year, he has thrown 5 games in relief and only 1 start. In 6 games and 1 start so far this year, he has pitched 15.1 innings, and allowed 9 BB and 6 HR.

Pitching out of the stretch the whole time, McRae retired Dexter Fowler on a deep fly to the track in center to start the game. Kolten Wong blooped a hanging slider to center. Starling Marte did not get the best jump, but raced forward and tried to make a sliding catch. The ball, however, bounced off of the heel of his glove for a base hit. But after Paul Goldschmidt worked a 3-2 walk, Marcell Ozuna bounced a ball to 3rd. Colin Moran stepped on 3rd base and fired to first for the 5-3 double play to end the inning. Miles Mikolas retired the Pirates in order, with the third out being a strikeout of Starling Marte, who looked at an inside fastball. The pitch looked a few inches inside and out of the zone. To lead off the top of the 2nd, Paul DeJong smoked a slider that went 106.1 mph off the bat towards Moran at 3rd, who jumped but could not hang on to the ball. The ball rolled past him a bit to the outfield grass for a base hit. Yadier Molina lined out to left. Tommy Edman worked the count to 3-2 and on the 10th pitch of the at-bat, he lined an inside fastball into the seats over the right field wall for a 2-run HR to give the Cards a 2-0 lead.

Bader flied out to left and Mikolas struck out to end the inning.

Josh Bell worked a 3-2 walk to start the bottom of the 2nd, but Moran grounded to DeJong while the Cards were in the shift. Positioned right over the 2nd base bag, DeJong stepped on the bag and fired to first for the 6-3 double play, slipping and falling in the process. Jose Osuna struck out for the final out of the inning. Paul Goldschmidt worked a 3-2 walk with 2 out in the top of the 3rd. Ozuna grounded a ball that almost made it through the hole to right, but Adam Frazier raced over, fielded the ball and spun around to nip Ozuna at first by a step. Frazier then sharply grounded a Mikolas fastball up the middle for a base hit to lead off the bottom of the 3rd. After Mikolas fanned both Jacob Stallings and the pitcher McRae, he left a hanging slider up in the zone to Kevin Newman, who ripped it into the left-center field gap for a double. The ball rolled to the wall to score Frazier and cut the Cards’ lead to 2-1.

Bryan Reynolds grounded to Wong at 2nd. His throw was offline, but Goldschmidt was able to apply the tag for the last out anyway.

With 2 out in the bottom of the 4th, Moran walked, and Osuna moved him to 2nd by sharply grounding a center-cut 95-mph fastball up the middle for a base hit. Frazier then walked on 4 straight outside fastballs to load the bases. Stallings chased a high-and-outside slider to fly out to right and strand the bases loaded. The Cards hit McRae hard in the top of the 5th, but his defense made some good plays behind him. Starling Marte ran down Harrison Bader’s liner at the track in center. Bryan Reynolds dove and caught Fowler’s opposite field smash at the track near the wall at the 410-foot sign in left-center for the 3rd out to rob Fowler of an extra-base hit.

In the bottom of the 5th with 1 out, Mikolas hit Newman on the underside of his right arm with an 0-2 fastball. Reynolds whiffed at a curveball in the dirt for strike 3. Marte worked a 3-2 walk, but Mikolas escaped the inning without damage by striking Bell out on an up-and-in fastball that he was behind on.

Righty Michael Feliz came out to pitch the top of the 6th and retired the first two Cardinal batters before walking Ozuna. DeJong struck out swinging at an up-and-in 95-mph fastball to strand Ozuna there. Tyler Webb came out for the bottom of the 6th, and the game is now up to the respective bullpens. Webb retired the Pirates in order with a strikeout of Moran on a 90-mph center-cut fastball for the first out. Righty Richard Rodriguez pitched the top of the 7th. After Molina struck out, Edman lined a center-cut fastball just into the first row of seats over the right-center field wall for a solo HR to extend the Cards’ lead to 3-1.

Bader worked a 3-2 walk. Matt Carpenter pinch hit for Webb and ripped an inside fastball down the right field line and into the corner for a double. Bader raced home all the way from 1st base to score and give the Cards a 4-1 lead.

Randy Arozarena ran for Carpenter. Lefty Wei-Chung Wang (pronounced like Wong) came in to pitch to Fowler, who tapped a ball back to the mound. Arozarena had started to shuffle towards 3rd base by the time that Wang had the ball on the mound. When he tried to get back to 2nd, Wang fired to SS Kevin Newman at 2nd base, who tagged Arozarena out. Wong then tapped out to Wang to end the inning.

John Gant came out to pitch the bottom of the 7th. Lefty Cole Tucker pinch hit for Stallings and poked a low-and-away changeup into right field for a base hit. Pablo Reyes pinch hit for the pitcher Wang and struck out swinging at a changeup down-and-in. After Newman walked on 4 straight pitches, Shildt brought in Andrew Miller to turn the switch-hitting Reynolds around to the right side. Reynolds struck out swinging at an inside slider for the 2nd out. So far so good, but as sometimes happens, things fall apart after a defensive miscue. Marte grounded a fastball up the middle for DeJong, who fielded it going to his left. Newman was hustling towards 2nd base. Instead of throwing to 1st base, DeJong decided to try to flip it to Wong, who was covering 2nd base. DeJong had a problem getting the ball out of his glove, however, and by the time he made his flip, it was across his body, and Newman had already slid safely into 2nd base. The closeup television replay showed that DeJong never did get the ball out of his glove with his throwing hand and just flipped his glove hand to release the ball. Somehow, the official scorer ruled this a base hit instead of a fielder’s choice and the scorer must have been thinking that DeJong would not have retired the speedy Marte at first anyway. In any case, the bases were loaded for Bell. Bell blooped a low-and-in slider into no-man’s land into right field. The ball dropped in between Wong, Goldschmidt and Fowler, who all converged on it. Both Tucker and Newman scored to cut the Cards’ lead to 4-3, and Marte advanced to 3rd on the play. With runners at the corners and 2 out, Melky Cabrera pinch hit for Moran and lined a hanging slider to left for a base hit to score Marte, move Bell to 2nd and tie the game 4-4. Shildt then brought in Brebbia, the third reliever of the inning, to pitch to Osuna. Osuna worked the count to 3-2 before reaching down and poking a low slider up the middle for a base hit to score Bell, move Cabrera to 2nd and give the Pirates a 5-4 lead, their first lead of the game. Brebbia then hung an 0-2 slider to Frazier, who launched it off of the very top of the very high right field wall to score Cabrera and Osuna and extend the Pirates’ lead to 7-4. Frazier ended up with a triple. Tucker tapped one back to the mound to finally end the inning, in which the Cards’ bullpen gave up 6 hits and 6 runs. You can see all of the run-scoring hits by the Pirates this inning in this video:

The Pirates made a bunch of changes for the top of the 8th. Cabrera stayed in the game in the #5 spot to play RF, with Osuna moving from RF to 3B. In addition, they made a double switch to bring in Elias Diaz to catch in the #9 spot and lefty Francisco Liriano to pitch in the #8 spot. Goldschmidt lined a changeup to left for a base hit to start the inning off. Ozuna grounded into a 4-6 force. Bell wasn’t even fielding his position properly by standing at the base for the return throw, but Ozuna would have been safe anyway. DeJong flied out to center. Molina lined an outside fastball that one-hopped the right field wall for a double to move Ozuna to 3rd, and bring up Edman, tonight’s Cardinal superhero. The Pirates brought in their closer, lefty Felipe Vazquez, to pitch to him. Edman struck out swinging at a low-and-away slider to strand the runners.

Mike Mayers came out to pitch the bottom of the 8th for the Cards. After Diaz struck out, Newman lined a fastball for a base hit to right. Reynolds lined an inside fastball into the right field corner for a double to move Newman to 3rd. Marte reached for a low-and-away slider with the infield in and softly grounded it up the middle for a base hit to score both Newman and Reynolds to extend the Pirates’ lead to 9-4. Josh Bell was intentionally walked to keep the double play in order, and Cabrera actually grounded a first-pitch curveball for a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Now the Cardinals need 5 runs to tie it. Bader struck out swinging at a 100-mph inside fastball. Yairo Munoz pinch hit for Mayers and grounded an 0-2 middle-in 99-mph fastball up the middle for a base hit. Fowler struck out swinging at a slider. Jose Martinez pinch hit for Wong and grounded an outside slider through the right side for a base hit to move Munoz to 3rd. Goldschmidt grounded into a 5-4 force to end the game. Vazquez got his 25th save, and was awarded a save despite the 9-4 final score because he came into the game in the top of the 8th with his club ahead 7-4 and the tying run at the plate.

Odds and Ends

Yadier Molina’s 8th inning double was the 377th double of his career, and tied him for 4th on the all-time Cardinal list with Joe Medwick...The Cards missed an opportunity to gain further ground on the Cubs, who lost to the Brewers 7-1. Cubs’ starter Cole Hamels allowed 9 H, 5 ER, and 2 HR in 3.1 IP. Christian Yelich went 3 for 4 with a walk and a 3-run HR for the Brewers and Yasmani Grandal added a solo shot. The Cubs only had 3 hits, one of which was a solo HR by Nicholas Castellanos. At the close of action tonight, the Cards still lead the Cubs by 2.5 games in the NL Central Division. The Nationals hold the first Wild Card Spot, and the Cubs hold the second spot, with the Diamondbacks 2.5 GB, and the Brewers, Phillies and Mets all 4 GB.