I don't know how to say anything coherent about this game. Let's open up with that and go from there.
Through three games, the only thing that this Pirates playoff run was been missing was a nail-biting, heart-pounding Playoff Game (tm). Given Francisco Liriano's success against the Cardinals this year and Joe Kelly's success against the Pirates, I had a hunch that that might be what we were in for tonight, but living through it was a different experience entirely.
Francisco Liriano was the pitcher that he's been for most of the second half of the season; unhittable early on, then slowly deteriorating with every turn of the lineup. After he breezed through the first seven hitters, he found himself constantly in trouble and giving up hard-hit balls from the late third inning onwards. Still, he managed to bear down and get himself out of most of the jams he found himself in, save the top of the fifth. Liriano didn't get any help from the umpires that inning -- it looked like Russell Martin threw Jon Jay out at third to complete a strike 'em out throw 'em out double play that would've ended the inning -- but he also walked Pete Kozma and decided to pitch to Carlos Beltran after falling behind 2-0 in the count, with disastrous results.
The counterpart to that was the middle of the Pirates' lineup. They had an answer for everything that the Cardinals did tonight; Andrew McCutchen drew a two-out walk in the first that turned into a 2-0 lead after a Justin Morneau single/error and a Marlon Byrd two-run single. After the Cardinals tied the game in the fifth, McCutchen drew another walk in the bottom of the sixth, moved to third with a Byrd double, and scored on a Russell Martin sac fly.
All of these things set the stage for a wildly intense eighth inning. When the seventh ended with the Pirates ahead 3-2, all I could think was that on one hand I should be excited to hand a one-run lead to Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli and on the other hand, those two facing the heart of the Cardinals' lineup was a terrifying thought. Two pitches later, Carlos Beltran had crushed a solo homer into right-center field and all of the crazy insecurities that come along with being a Pirate fan bubbled up. What if Melancon's really lost it? How bad might this inning get? Who would pitch the ninth inning if the score was tied? Would it be Jason Grilli or would it be Bryan Morris? Is Jeanmar Gomez ready for a 19-inning game?
As Melancon calmly navigated the 3-4-5 portion of the Cardinals lineup, another thought occured: the Pirates have the middle of the lineup due up. Andrew McCutchen lead off the eighth by reaching base for the fourth time in Game 3 with a leadoff double smoked down the left field line. Justin Morneau hit a sharp ground ball to short on the first pitch of his at-bat and McCutchen took off for third on contact for some reason, which ended with McCutchen being thrown out. For just one moment, the air went out of PNC Park and 40,000+ got about as quiet as believable. Marlon Byrd bailed McCutchen out, though, by drawing an eight-pitch walk. That more or less negated the base-running error, but it brought Pedro Alvarez to the plate and Mike Matheny ready to switch to the lefty Kevin Siegrist.
With a potentially pivotal Game 3 of the NLDS on the line and a hard-throwing lefty reliever on the mound, Pedro Alvarez fell behind 0-1 in the count, took a ball, and singled through the right side of the infield to bring home the go-ahead run. The same Pedro Alvarez that struck out twice against Joe Kelly after getting ahead 3-1 in the count. Russell Martin followed Alvarez's single up with one of his own, to give the Pirates a 5-3 lead. As it turns out, it doesn't matter how many leads you blow in a game so long as you can hold on to the last one. That 5-3 lead was enough for Jason Grilli.
I'm still struggling to find ways to process this. The Pirates blew two leads tonight, and every time the Cardinals punched, the heart of the Pirates' order had a counter-punch. Andrew McCutchen was 2-for-2 with two walks, two runs scored, and his double in the eighth inning started the game-winning rally even though he ran himself off of the bases. Marlon Byrd had the big two-run single in the first inning, he had the double that put McCutchen in scoring position in the sixth, and he drew the walk that negated McCutchen's running error in the eighth. Russell Martin had a sac fly and an RBI single. Pedro Alvarez had what is, to this point, the biggest hit of the season and it came against a left-handed reliever, no less.
The Pirates have a 2-1 lead in the NLDS. They are one win away from the National League Championship Series. Tomorrow's game is at PNC Park. For tonight, at least, that's enough.
I think it's fair to say the Pirates shoplifted one here; it's awfully good to be good, but sometimes it's better to be lucky.
@whygavs 30 something's that still feel robbed
@whygavs 90-91-92 all it was was endless no production from 18 24 and 25. Alvarez coming through when we needed him to. Means a lot to....
@whygavs I think what it is for me that for the first time - the pirates that had to come through did that
McCutchen, Martin, Alvarez and Byrd are putting up a combined .389/.476/.741 line thusfar this postseason.
The pitching staff outside of Burnett has a 1.13 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in 24 IP.
This, I think we all can agree, is not what I expected from Our First Meaningful October Baseball In Quite Some Time.
We most certainly are NOT "just happy to be here."
Tremendous resilience by our Bucs tonight. I've enjoyed 3 Division Titles but never celebrated a series victory. I really want to know to know what that feels like.
Liriano needs some rest. His stuff is not what it was. Plus, the HP umpire was incredibly inconsistent today - on both sides. That was awful to watch his strike zone move around like a moving target. Anyway, I hope Francisco can get an extra day of rest or two plus the five between today and his next start...And, no I'm not talking about him getting to rest the remainder of the offseason until early April, 2014!
Great, great game. Don't know what Cutch was thinking there in the bottom of the 8th but it was wonderful to see that lineup pick him up and score 2 after the base-running blunder.
The nice thing about playing these Cardinals is their bench is pretty unimpressive. Matheny doesn't have many offensive weapons coming off his bench and it looks like he's not getting the ball to the correct relievers either. Why did he go with Martinez in the 8th? Thanks, Mike. You really helped us when the game looked like it had turned.
Cardinals were lucky there is no instant replay this year because Martin threw the runner out at third on reply. That means Beltran was lucky he had the opportunity to knock in runners when in reality the inning would have been over if this was 2014. Cards were very lucky thank you very much!!!!
@wkkortas Sure, there were a lot of hard hit balls off of Liriano that found gloves. But did the Cardinals really do that much that you would say they deserved to win and not the Pirates? I'd call it a close game that could've gone either way, happened to go our way.
“all of the crazy insecurities that come along with being a Pirate fan bubbled up”. I need to strengthen my tinfoil hat.WHYGAVS can still read my thoughts.
Gopher ball to Carlos Beltran aside, I keep reminding myself this team is not the 90-92 version.Those guys struggled at the plate and they didn’t have much of a bullpen.This team has clutch hitting and The Shark Tank.
October 1, 2013. Russell Martin ties Andy Van Slyke (0), Barry Bonds (1), and Bobby Bonilla's (1) "combined" HR total of 2. He did it in one game while it took the other three players 53 games to achieve that mark.
October 4, 2013. Pedro Alvarez does the same thing after only three playoff games.
All this when run production and batting averages are down these days because of super bullpens
Bonds batted .167 in the 1990 NLCS and .148 in the 1991 NLCS.
Van Slyke batted .208 in the 1990 NLCS and .160 in the 1991 NLCS.
Bonilla batted .190 in the 1990 NLCS.
Bonilla picked it up to around .300 in the 1991 NLCS and Bonds and Van Slyke both improved to about .250 in the 1992 NLCS.
mwr : you mean you would rather face Matinez than Rosenthal ( sarcasm font ) ??? " Thanks Mike " doesn't even come close to expressing my gratitude ! And to Richard U :By the I have watched every playoff game on TBS,and their Pitch Trax is no more than 6 " close to to reality. The Root Sports effect is much more accurate,and their camera directly behind the pitcher/catcher line makes it a lot easier to see the true strike zone in my opinion.
@mwr505 I really think that TBS had their strike box off by about 6 inches, so it made the Ump look much much worse than he was
@Eephus @wkkortas I'd absolutely agree that it could have gone either way, but given that Liriano stayed in one inning-plus too long, that the Bucs survived Cutch's egregious baserunning gaffe, and neither Adams nor Jay punished those Mike Williams-issue high sliders that Grilli threw them...well, the Bucs won one that they could have and arguably should have lost. I'm not complaining, understand.
@lee1943 Not to mention Maness, whose stuff is manifestly unimpressive, and Axford, who is a big inning waiting to happen. I am certainly not a big fan of Hurdle's in-game managing, but Matheny has been pretty lousy on that front, not to mention I have no idea why the Cardinals are carrying 12 pitchers--obviously, there is no role for Mujica in Matheny's mind, so he's just a dead roster spot for the Cardinals.
@RichardUnderwood @mwr505 Well, if it was off by 6", wasn't it 6" on all four sides off the zone because there were high pitches called strikes and then similar high pitches called balls. There were low pitches called strikes and low ones deemed to be balls. The corners were even more problematic and it didn't matter on which side of the plate the ball was thrown or which side of the plate the batter stood. It was a real mess in my opinion, especially for a post-season game and that was the crew chief, Jerry Lane. He's supposed to be the most senior veteran ump who will get it right more often than most. Sheesh!
@wkkortas @Eephus Shoplifted might be a bit strong but I agree the Bucs skated around disaster in Game #3. Why I don't accept the "shoplifting" term so much in this instance is Matheny might be accused of leaving the merchandise out on the street corner rather than in his store. When he brought in reliever Martinez to start bottom of 8th against the heart of our order it was ours for the taking. Plus, with Craig out and Adams starting Matheny has virtually nothing of substance coming off of his bench that scares me.
Glad you mentioned Grilli's high sliders in the 9th. It was fortunate that they were almost too high to get a good swing on one or more of them when you're expecting hard Grilli stuff down around the knees.