September 30, 2015

Cole crushes Cards magic

PITTSBURGH--PNC PARK--A run and a grand slam in the bottom of the fourth inning by the Pittsburgh Pirates all but crushed the St. Louis Cardinals' hopes of clinching the NL Central Division crown in the first game of a split doubleheader Wednesday afternoon, the Bucs downing the Cards 8-2.

The starting pitchers promised a hard-nosed Central Division duel, both the Cardinals' Michael Wacha (17-7) and the Pirates' Gerrit Cole (19-8). Each gave a run in the early going.

Wacha gave up a home run to the Bucs' Neil Walker, a solo shot to right field that just cleared the wall in the bottom of the second inning.

In the top of the fourth inning, Matt Carpenter singled home Matt Carpenter to tie the game at 1-apiece.

The Bucs got to Wacha in the bottom of the fourth, however, putting together a rally built on an Andrew McCutchen single, an Aramis Ramirez walk, and a Neil Walker ground out to the right side that moved the aforementioned Pirates up a base, to third and second, respectively. That play caused a Cardinals decision that went awry within two more batters.

An intentional pass was thrown to Pedro Alvarez to load the bases in order to face who the Cardinals had determined was a less dangerous hitter--Francisco Cervelli.

Cervelli promptly deposited a Wacha pitch into the left field seats for a grand slam that put the Bucs ahead 5-1.

Pittsburgh restarted the rally from the bases-clearing Cervelli clout with some help from Wacha, who walked Jordy Mercer. Gerrit Cole, in his only failure of the day, lined a bunt attempt to Cards' first baseman, Mark Reynolds for the second out of the inning. Gregory Polanco picked him right up, though, doubling to right field, scoring Mercer all the way around from first base, stretching an already big lead to 6-1.

Just as Wacha ran into difficulty, Pittsburgh's Cole was sailing smooth, mowing down the first nine Redbirds to step up to the plate. It wasn't until the fourth until Carpenter broke the hitless run of nine with a double to right field that lead to the first of only two St. Louis runs on the game.

Otherwise, Cole allowed seven hits in seven inning of work, walked nary a Cardinal, and struck out a couple. Cole did get nicked by a PNC Park-clearing bomb by Carpenter in the sixth, the ball bouncing once and plunking into the slow-moving filth of the Allegheny River.

Tony Cruz also did well against the ace, Cole, cracking a couple doubles to dead center that gave a somewhat hobbled McCutchen fits. Jhonny Peralta had a couple hits.

The Pirates answered in the bottom of the sixth, Wacha having exited by then. Francisco Cervelli lining a one-out double to center field, scoring on a Mercer single, making to 7-2.

The eighth inning would find the Bucs adding an insurance run, but the Cardinals may have called that inning a bigtime victory, as Adam Wainwright returned to mound. From the bullpen, Wainwright retired the first couple of Pirates before giving up a couple hits, but his delivery looked good, his mechanics in order considering he'd missed almost the entire season due to an Achilles injury.

The Cardinals have another chance to clinch the Central Division title in the nightcap, the day-night doubleheader set up by the previous night's inclement weather. The extra day permitted the Pirates to throw Cole against Wacha, and now, push Charlie Morton's start to the nightcap, where the Bucs will face Tyler Lyons, a pitching advantage, at least on paper.

It will take a 100th win for St. Louis to take the Division crown. Should the Cards fail in the nightcap, they must one of the next three games in Atlanta.

First pitch of the nightcap is set for 6:05 p.m. CDT.