Pirates power past Cardinals in doubleheader sweep
These are not typical times along the North Shore.
The Pirates took both games of Tuesday's doubleheader against the Cardinals — a 2-1 victory in 11 innings in the first game and 6-0 win in the second — to take a 1 1⁄2 game lead over St. Louis in the NL Central. Regardless of the outcome of Wednesday's game, the Pirates will enter August in first place for the first time since 1992.
This was not a typical July 30 for PNC Park. Hundreds of fans milled outside the home-plate rotunda prior to the game. There were long lines for tickets. Talk had not yet turned to Steelers training camp, as thousands streamed over the Clemente Bridge to experience firsthand perhaps the most important series in the ballpark's history. And 33,861 mostly stuck around for a rare twinight doubleheader.
The Pirates took both games, in part, through atypical fashion: timely hitting.
The Pirates entered the series with a major league-worst .222 average with runners in scoring position, and the Cardinals entered with an MLB-best .338. But through the first three game of the series, the clutch-hitting roles have reversed.
“It doesn't mean anything,” Hurdle said of being in first place. “There's a whole lot of baseball to be played.”
Left-handed hitting Alex Presley was called up Monday, in large part, because the Pirates were to face nine right-handed starters over their next 11 games. With two on and one out in the 11th inning of Game 1, Presley hit a sharp bouncer back at Cardinals lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist. Siegrist deflected the ball into left field, enabling Russell Martin to score and give the Pirates a 2-1 walk-off win.
Presley was mobbed by teammates, hardly looking like they were carrying the weight of the last two years' second-half collapses.
In the fifth inning of Game 2, Starling Marte led off with a triple, and Jordy Mercer plated him with a single. Andrew McCutchen followed with a two-run home run off starter Tyler Lyons, a decisive blow, to give the Pirates a three-run inning and 4-0 lead.
The Cardinals have gone just 3 for 21 with runners in scoring position in the series.
While the timely hitting was atypical and welcomed, the Pirates also leaned on their typical formula to victory: pitching and defense.
The Pirates called up Brandon Cumpton to start the second game, and Cumpton responded with seven shutout innings, allowing three hits, and doing what he does best: getting groundball outs (11) for his first major league win.
The 13 Pirates pitchers on the 25-man roster have combined for a 2.58 ERA.
While A.J. Burnett has only one win since May 4, he matched Cardinals starter Lance Lynn in the first game with by allowing one run over seven innings and striking out nine. Lynn allowed one run and three hits over six innings.
“I said it last year, and I'll say it again: I'm not here for my numbers,” Burnett said. “I'm here to do what I can to get this team to October.”
The Cardinals entered the series widely viewed as the best team in baseball. But the Pirates have several advantages, including defense and speed.
The Pirates entered with baseball's top defensive efficiency — the rate at which batted balls are turned into outs — and the Cardinals entered with the 25th-most efficient defense.
Marte and McCutchen took at least five hits away from the Cardinals.
The Cardinals struggled at times defensively. In the second inning of the second game, David Freese booted a Jose Tabata groundball for an error. Tabata advanced to third on a Josh Harrison single and scored on a passed ball by Yadier Molina, who left the game with a right-knee strain.
The Pirates also have something the Cardinals don't: a five-tool impact player. McCutchen showed off all five tools Tuesday.
He dived to rob Carlos Beltran of a run-scoring hit in the first inning Game 1 and doubled off Holliday with a strong throw to first. In the bottom of the inning, he doubled to left. In the second game, he delivered a decisive blow, his 15th homer of the season, perhaps remove lingering doubt that these are different times at PNC Park.