July 12, 2008

Bucs' Michaels trumps Glaus HR with walk-off blast in 10th

Jason Michaels blasted a Chris Perez fastball into the left field seats for a walk-off, two-run homer in the tenth inning, completing a Pirates comeback that started almost from the moment the Cardinals' starting pitcher Todd Wellemeyer was relieved.

Wellemeyer was lifted in the seventh after the Bucs scored their fourth run. At the time, the Cards were up 9-4. From there, Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa rifled through most of the bullpen, Russ Springer the initial reliever, who pitched out of an inherited Wellemeyer jam when the starter ran out of gas with one out.

The Cardinals tacked on a tenth run in the top of the eighth, La Russa then calling on Ryan Franklin to start the bottom of the inning, now with a six run lead. Franklin gave up a single to Luis Rivas, then a two-out home run off the bat of Jason Bay, the Bucs answering the Cards' top of the inning run and adding another, closing the gap to 10-6.

La Russa brought in lefty reliever Ron Villone to hold off any further damage.

Jason Isringhausen then got a shot at the closer's role, taking the mound with a four-run lead. Things looked good for him, too, for one batter, Jose Bautista, who he struck out. Then he did the unthinkable for a reliever, walking a batter with a decent lead, Jason Michaels more than happy to take first base, the Pirates in desperate need of base runner to bring around.

The troubles got deeper when Jack Wilson beat out a slow-roller to Troy Glaus at third base, and suddenly, the Pirates had two men on and only one out with All-Star Nate McClouth coming up. McClouth delivered, deposting an Isringhausen fast ball into the seats, his three-run homer bringing the Pirates within one run.

La Russa didn't feel like letting Isringhausen suffer any more than he had already, bringing in rookie Kyle McClellan. Luis Rivis kept the Bucs alive, singling. Ryan Doumit hit a single to right-center, Joe Mather unable to surround the ball and get it back in fast enough to prevent Rivas from hustling from first to third. The Cardinals still had a chance to end the game, should Jason Bay hit into a double play. McClellan got Bay to ground to shortstop Cesar Izturis, but Aaron Miles was unable to execute a clean transfer from glove to throwing hand and never made the throw to first. Rivas coasted home with the tying run. Xavier Nady popped out to Izturis, but the resilient Pirates had forced extra innings.

Troy Glaus put in his bid for hero of the game in the top of tenth, launching a Denny Bautista fast ball far up into the left field seats, putting the Cardinals up 11-10 and a new chance to shut down the Pirates.

The Bucs had other ideas, going to work on McClellan, Raul Chavez leading off the bottom of the tenth with a sharply hit single. La Russa was out to mound almost before Chavez rounded first base, giving the nod to another rookie, Chris Perez.

With the tying run on first base, Perez got Jose Bautista to pop out, but then had the meat of the Pirates' order if he wanted to save the game. Jason Michaels had other plans. Swinging for contact, Michaels got a lot more of a Perez fast ball then the young reliever would've like, blasting the walk-off homer to left field.

The loss highlighted the Cardinals biggest deficiency to date: the bullpen. For several stretches, the offense had let them down, but the bullpen has consistently struggled, tonight's game just one more example, but amplified by the tremendous Pirates comeback.

photo by David Watson, flickr