Pirates rally for Game 3 victory, lead NLDS 2-1
About 10 minutes before game time Sunday afternoon, Andrew McCutchen popped out of the Pirates dugout and took a look around.
PNC Park was loud, a sea of black towel-waving fanatics. The St. Louis Cardinals were across the field stretching, eager to go. The National League Division Series was tied at one game apiece, but it wouldn't be for long.
“It's amazing to be part of this,” McCutchen said later, describing the moment. “I'd always heard players say that when you get a taste of the playoffs, you want to continue and get more. I can see why that's true. This is something you dream about.”
In that case, don't wake up, Cutch. Dream on.
The Pirates scored two runs during a furious eighth-inning rally and upended the Cardinals, 5-3, in Game 3 of the NLDS.
“The confidence level is high,” Pirates catcher Russell Martin said. “And the stakes couldn't be any higher.”
The Pirates are one victory away from winning their first playoff series since the 1979 World Series.
If the Pirates beat the Cardinals Monday at PNC Park, they will advance to the NL Championship Series. If the Cardinals win, the decisive Game 5 will be played Wednesday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
“These guys have been in this situation many, many times,” said Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, who swatted a game-tying solo homer in the eighth. “They know things can change at any moment. Tomorrow, (if) we come here and win, now we're home. We'll see.”
The Cardinals overcame deficits of 2-0 and 3-2, but they had no answer for the Pirates' final comeback. Closer Jason Grilli shut them down in the ninth for his first postseason save.
“Right now, it hurts,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “They're going to sit on it for a little while. Tomorrow morning, they'll be ready to go.”
The Pirates almost blew an opportunity to break a 3-3 tie in the eighth when McCutchen made an uncharacteristic baserunning blunder.
McCutchen led off with a double off reliever Carlos Martinez. Justin Morneau followed with a roller to shortstop Pete Kozma, and McCutchen broke for third. He was an easy out.
“It was pretty much hit right at me,” McCutchen said. “But it was hit too hard. I guess it doesn't matter because we still scored.”
Marlon Byrd walked, and Morneau was replaced by pinch runner Josh Harrison. Martinez gave way to left-hander Kevin Siegrist, who held left-handed batters to a .118 average this season.
That didn't trouble Pedro Alvarez, who reached down for a 95 mph fastball on the outside edge of the zone and pulled a single into right field. Harrison scored to make it 4-3, and Byrd went to third base.
Alvarez has at least one RBI in each of the Pirates' four postseason games.
“Very impressive at-bat,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Martin singled to left, scoring Byrd.
The standing-room crowd of 40,489 — a PNC Park record for paid attendance — was just as rowdy as it was Tuesday when it tormented Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto in the wild-card game. As Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly threw his first pitch, the fans were chanting his name.
“They came out loud,” McCutchen said. “And they're going to be even louder (Monday).”
With two outs in the first inning, McCutchen drew a full-count walk. Morneau hit a slow roller to the left side for an infield single. Kozma threw the ball into the seats, putting runners on second and third. Byrd rolled a two-run single just out of Kozma's reach into left field.
By the fourth inning, the crowd had simmered down — and Kelly had settled in. After his 29-pitch first inning, Kelly got through the next three on 31 total pitches.
Liriano blanked the Cardinals through four innings, but it wasn't easy. The Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs in the third, but Matt Holliday flew out to deep right field.
In the fifth, Jon Jay led off with a single. Pirates starter Francisco Liriano seemed to be preoccupied with Jay and did not pitch aggressively to Kozma, who walked on five pitches. As Carpenter took a called third strike for the second out, the Cardinals pulled off a double-steal. It was a bang-bang play at third base; Martin fired a strong throw, but Jay slipped his hand onto the bag.
With first base open, Liriano opted to pitch to Beltran, a right-handed batter. Liriano fell behind in the count again — he threw first-pitch balls to all six batters in the inning — and Beltran punched a 3-1 pitch into left field for a game-tying single.
Liriano gritted through one last inning, retiring the Cardinals 1-2-3 in the sixth and nudging his pitch count over 100. He received a no-decision, allowing two runs and three hits. “I was missing a lot of pitches in the dirt,” Liriano said. “It was one of those nights I had to go out there and battle.”
The Pirates got to Kelly in the bottom of the inning. McCutchen walked and went to third on Byrd's one-out double. Alvarez was intentionally walked.
Right-hander Seth Maness relieved Kelly to face Martin, who hit a sacrifice fly to center. McCutchen scored to make it 3-2.
“I know (Maness) has a sinker, and the rest are secondary pitches,” Martin said. “So I was just going to look for a sinker, make sure it was up a little bit. He threw a fastball that didn't have much angle to it, and I was able to lift it into the air.”
The lead didn't last. Mark Melancon served up a fat 0-1 fastball, and Beltran clobbered it over the right-field wall. It was the first home run Melancon had allowed since April 14, when Cincinnati's Joey Votto hit a solo shot.
It also was Beltran's 16th postseason homer, which moved him ahead of Babe Ruth into seventh place on baseball's all-time list.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.