Bucs are resilient, but so are Cardinals
In a bone-dry Pirates' clubhouse, outfielder Marlon Byrd was asked if winning the single-elimination, wild card game against Cincinnati last week might help in the deciding NL Division Series Game 5 on Wednesday in St. Louis.
“We'll find out,” he said.
No series-clinching champagne showered the Pirates after their 2-1, Game 4 loss to the Cardinals on Monday at PNC Park. Just questions, some more difficult than others.
Easy were the ones about the game and St. Louis rookie pitcher Michael Wacha's unflappable performance. The stickier queries regarded what lies ahead. As Byrd's terse response indicated, there is no answer until the teams play again.
What seems clear is that a) the Pirates will be there and b) they are taking along the confidence and resilience that has brought them this far.
“We've been good pretty much all year at showin' up day to day and expecting to win that day, putting whatever happened the day before behind us and movin' forward,” shortstop Clint Barmes said
“This has been our M.O all year long,” said second baseman Neil Walker. “We've been confident in what we're doing. We've stared adversity in the face several times this year, and this will be another challenge. We're ready to go.”
The challenge is considerable. The NL Central Division champions are coming home to a packed and lively Busch Stadium and will hand the ball to their ace, Adam Wainwright. In a 9-1 win Thursday at Busch in Game 1, the 32-year-old right-hander held the Pirates to one run and three hits in seven innings, walking none and striking out nine. A 19-game winner during the regular season, Wainright is 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA in playoff competition.
The Pirates will answer with righty Gerrit Cole, who matched Wainwright by winning Game 2 at Busch on Friday, yielding one run and three hits in six innings. That followed his last four regular-season starts in which he went 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 26 innings. But Cole is a rookie pitching under extreme duress.
Then again, Wacha seemed to do OK.
“This team is ready to win,” said Byrd, a 12-year veteran of seven big league clubs. “There's no give up. There's always fight in this team.”
The same is said of the Cardinals, who play what their manager, Mike Matheny, calls “gutsy baseball.” They needed to win in a hostile environment Monday and came through. In last season's wild-card game, they beat the Braves at noisy Turner Field. In the deciding NLDS Game 5 at Washington, St. Louis trailed by two runs and faced their final strike before scoring four times to win, 9-7.
In the 2011 NLDS, the Cardinals fell behind Philadelphia, 2-1, but won Game 4 at home and then took Game 5 in front of a raucous Philly crowd, 1-0. And in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, they trailed Texas, 7-5 in the ninth and 9-7 in the 10th before winning with a home run in the 11th. The next day, St. Louis won the Series.
“I think you take high talent and high character people that are motivated and support each other, and they don't give up,” Matheny said. “That's a tough combination. And they've bought into playing the idea of playing this game in a way that they got no regrets about.”
So there it is, two feisty, high-character teams that competed evenly all year. St. Louis might have an overall edge in talent, but is anyone prepared to count out the Pirates at this point? Perhaps closer Jason Grilli produced the most inarguable statement.
“It's better to be doing this and having your cleats in the dirt than sitting home on the couch, eatin' a sandwich and drinkin' a pop,” he said.
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.