Pirates, Alvarez clobber Cardinals
With their flickering playoff hopes hanging in the balance Tuesday, the Pirates showed they still can pack a punch.
The Pirates routed the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-0, and moved back to within two games of the final National League wild card spot. The third game of the series is Wednesday
Right-hander James McDonald bullied the Cardinals for seven innings, allowing only two hits and striking out six. Pedro Alvarez slugged two homers, including a 469-foot solo shot that's the longest clout by a Pirate at PNC Park.
“That ball looked like it was going to hit the (Clemente) bridge,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “That's a whole bunch of feet.”
But the tone was set early by Josh Harrison, who ran over catcher Yadier Molina at the plate. Molina had to leave the game.
“It was an old-fashioned baseball play,” Hurdle said.
With the Pirates leading 1-0 in the second inning, Harrison led off with a single. He was at second base with two outs when Jose Tabata singled to shallow right field. Carlos Beltran got to the ball quickly and his throw beat Harrison to the plate by two steps.
“When I was about (30 feet) from the plate, I saw him slide his feet back,” Harrison said. “The whole plate was blocked; there was no way to slide around him. My only chance was to go through him.”
Trying to dislodge the ball, Harrison ran into Molina at full speed. As he turned his body slightly, Harrison's left arm came up and slammed into Molina's jaw. Molina, who outweighs Harrison by 35 pounds, hung onto the ball for the out.
“I really don't like being involved in those plays, because (catchers) are the ones with all the padding,” Harrison said.
For a moment, neither player moved. Harrison eventually got to his feet and went to the dugout. Molina stayed on his knees and was attended to by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and a trainer.
“I never saw (Harrison) coming,” Molina said. “I was concentrating on catching the ball. Hopefully, it was a clean play. I haven't seen a replay, so I'll have to wait and see.”
As Molina was helped off the field, some of the Cardinals glared at Harrison. Molina was still woozy a few minutes later and was replaced by Tony Cruz. Molina was diagnosed with an upper back, left shoulder and neck strain.
“No concussion,” Molina said. “Just a really bad headache. That's a good thing.”
Harrison started the game at second base in place of Neil Walker, who is day to day with tightness in his lower back.
Alvarez's two-run, opposite-field homer made it 3-0 in the third. Harrison led off the fourth, but it was an uneventful at-bat, with not even a brushback pitch from righty Jake Westbrook (13-10).
In the fifth, the Cardinals got their payback by plunking Harrison. Big deal. The Pirates sent 10 batters to the plate and scored four runs.
The inning began with four consecutive hits, including an RBI double by Alvarez — a hard liner off the base of the Clemente Wall — and Michael McKenry's run-scoring single. Harrison was hit by a pitch on the foot, loading the bases.
“It's part of the game,” Harrison said with a shrug. “(Molina) is one of the guys they feel they have to protect. You play the game hard and you never want anybody to get hurt.”
Umpire Adrian Johnson immediately warned both benches. While Hurdle talked it over — loudly — with Johnson on the field, Pirates players barked at the Cardinals' dugout.
“I could see some of their players screaming in Clint's direction,” Rod Barajas said. “That's what got me fired up. Clint's the leader of this team and I'm not going to let any opposing players or coaches yell at him. I'm going to stand behind him.”
After the game, Hurdle said he “had no reaction” to Harrison getting nicked.
“I'll share the rest of my comments with the league office,” Hurdle said. “A baseball play was made at home plate. They decided to pitch Josh Harrison inside and tight. That's a baseball play. What I was disappointed in is we didn't have an opportunity to make a baseball play. If (Johnson) thought there was intent to hit him, throw the pitcher out and let's move on.”
When things calmed down again, Clint Barmes lined the first pitch through a drawn-in infield for a two-run single for a 7-0 lead.
Brandon Dickson replaced Westbrook in the sixth, and served up a titanic home run to Alvarez.
It was Alvarez's fifth career two-homer game, his third this season. When the crowd of 17,492 demanded a curtain call, Alvarez, with a broad smile, went to the top step of the dugout and flashed a “Zoltan Z.”