ShareThis Page

Pirates remain behind the curve in Game 1 loss

| Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, 10:51 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright delivers against the Pirates during the second inning Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — The Pirates have trouble with the curve. Now they are behind the curve.

The Pirates were the third-worst curveball-hitting team in baseball this season, according to Baseball Info Solutions.

That was a major problem. According to BIS, only one National League pitcher had a better curveball than Cardinals' Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright in 2013: Miami's Jose Fernandez.

Could the matchup have been any less favorable? Yes. The 4 p.m. local start time meant Busch Stadium's infield shadows obscured pitches. making the curveball even more difficult to identify.

The variables in the NLDS Game 1 equation yielded an unsurprising result: Wainwright allowed one run over seven innings in the Cardinals' 9-1 victory. He struck out nine — five coming via curveball — allowed three hits and didn't walk a batter.

“It has been one of the challenges we've had,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of hitting curveballs. “Good curveballs are tough to hit for anybody. I know our averages don't play extremely well. That's about all I've got.”

In five career postseason starts, Wainwright has never allowed more than one run. If there's a fifth game in the series, Hurdle's club again will face Wainwright and his curveball. In 28 innings against the Pirates this season, Wainwright has allowed 18 hits, eight runs and six walks. He has 29 strikeouts.

How good has the knee-buckling pitch been this season? Wainwright recorded 111 strikeouts with the curveball and allowed three home runs. Opponents hit .177 against Wainwright's curve, which has tight spin and drops at a seemingly 90-degree angle.

Wainwright threw 29 curveballs Thursday. The Pirates swung and missed nine times. Five times the pitch recorded a strikeout, three times a groundout. No Pirate recorded a hit off the curve, with the only close bid being Clint Barmes' lineout in the third.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said the club must better identify and lay off the pitch.

“I think the difference in the game was we had a lot of swings and misses out of the zone on the curveball,” McCutchen said. “If we just let those (curveballs) go, it could have been a different ballgame. That was a difference-maker for his outing.”

Marlon Byrd played winter ball in the off-speed pitch heavy Mexican League during the offseason to improve hitting against the curveball. But Byrd didn't face many curves like Wainwright's. He struck out twice swinging at the pitch twice Thursday.

“He's unbelievable at locating it,” Byrd said. “You have to make sure you're able to pull it. If you can't pull, you shouldn't swing at it.”

But seeing it at all is the hard part.

“You don't see spin,” Byrd said. “That's what makes the breaking ball so good. It's so tight. … It has no spin; it kind of looks like a fastball.”

Only it isn't. It dropped below the zone often Thursday, taking the Pirates' Game 1 chances with it.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.