October 1, 2015

J-Hey grand, Tyler no paper lion in Cards clincher

PITTSBURGH--PNC PARK--The St. Louis Cardinals worked their magic in the nightcap of a split doubleheader Wednesday to win the NL Central Division crown for the third straight season.

After getting manhandled in the day game, 8-2, St. Louis grabbed an early lead come nightfall and never looked back, routing the Pittsburgh Pirates, 11-1, and finally ending their chase for the division title.

Due to the previous day's rainout, the Bucs were able to juggle their starting rotation and get their ace, Gerrit Cole, on the hill versus the Cards' Michael Wacha, a move that worked well for Pittsburgh and led to what they hoped would be a favorable matchup in the night game pitting Charlie Morton (9-9) against the Cards' spot starter, Tyler Lyons (3-1).

Lyons pitched the game of his career, walking nobody while striking out five, allowing five hits in a full seven innings of scoreless work. All his teammates needed to do was score some runs.

And runs the Cardinals score, starting with a couple in the top of the first inning.Matt Carpenter setting the tone with a leadoff triple into left field. After a challenge by St. Louis manager Mike Matheny on a pitch Jon Jay felt hit him, but was called a ball instead, the review revealed Jay was hit and was awarded first base. Jhonny Peralta hit into a double play, the Pirates willing to let Carpenter score the first run of the game from third base in favor of snatching a couple outs and cleaning the bases for Morton.

With a 1-0 lead, the Cardinals manufactured another. Jason Heyward, starting his evenings heroics, powered a grounder through the hole on the right side for a single, then scored from first base on a Matt Adams RBI double to right field, giving Lyons and the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

Morton would only last two innings, St. Louis loading the bases in the top of the third, the Bucs' starter unable to record an out. Pittsburgh manager, Clint Hurdle, elected to go with lefthander Bobby LaFromboise, a move that would end up costing the Pirates. Heyward lined a 2-1 pitch into the right field seats for a grand slam and a 6-0 Cardinals' lead.

Offense wasn't the only heroics for Heyward, who during the course of the game made a diving catch racing in on a shallow ball as well as a catch with his back up against the wall.

After three innings of scoreless baseball, St. Louis added one in the top of the seventh when Peralta singled to center field, bringing home Jon Jay, making it 7-0.

Continuing the rout in the next inning, Peralta went back to work, singling again to center field, this time both Kolten Wong and Carpenter scoring, St. Louis enjoying a 9-0 lead.

The Pirates scored their only run of the night in the bottom of the eighth off St. Louis reliever, Kevin Siegrist, on a ground ball trade-off run for out.

Tony Cruz supplied icing to the clinching cake in the top of the ninth, blasting a two-run homer to left field. Cruz had doubled twice in the afternoon affair, and has generally been hitting well since getting regular playing time due to the hand injury to Yadier Molina.

Somewhat reserved in their post-game celebration on the field, the Cardinals let loose a bit more in the clubhouse.

The NL Central Division was so tough this season it took St. Louis 100 wins to secure the title.

St. Louis starts its NL Division Series Oct. 9 with home field advantage over their opponent, yet to be determined in the NL Wild Card game, featuring the Pirates and the Chicago Cubs. Home field advantage for the one-game Wild Card has yet to determined, with a Wild Card magic number of two for the Pirates.

The Cardinals enjoy a day off and then finish the season with a three-game series in Atlanta starting Friday.