Pirates' dream season comes to halt as Cardinals advance
ST. LOUIS — After pushing the St. Louis Cardinals to the brink of elimination in the National League Division Series, the Pirates were unable to deliver the final nudge.
The Cardinals clobbered the Pirates, 6-1, Wednesday to win the series in five games.
“It's over,” Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole said. “We made a good run, and we came in expecting to win this game. It was fun. It was a hell of a battle between two teams who respect each other a lot.”
St. Louis moves on to play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship series. Game 1 will be played Friday night at Busch Stadium.
The Pirates were to fly back to Pittsburgh early Thursday morning. The players and coaches will return to PNC Park to clean out their lockers and start looking ahead to spring training.
“It always stings when it ends,” closer Jason Grilli said. “It's hard for me to take the uniform off. I guess (the Cardinals) are like the Yankees of the NL — they win and win. It gets old, but that's a good team.”
The loss brings to an end the Pirates' best season since 1992, when they lost to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. The Pirates went 94-68, finished second in the NL Central Division and earned an NL wild-card berth.
The Pirates led the NLDS, 2-1, but lost Game 4 on Monday in Pittsburgh. Wednesday, they never got much going against Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright.
“Every time we turned around, Wainwright got in the way,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The at-bats were better, the approach was better, but he kept making pitches.”
In those two games, when they had a chance to win their first postseason series since the 1979 World Series, the Pirates managed a total of two runs on nine hits.
Looking toward next season, Hurdle sees positives that can come out of even a playoff series defeat.
“I've admired our team's makeup,” Hurdle said. “I've admired the preparation, the focus, dealing with situations, dealing with frustration a little bit, dealing with the challenges the game can present. We are gaining experience on so many different levels. We are becoming tougher.”
The Cardinals know all about getting tougher. They are 8-1 in postseason elimination games since 2011.
This time, the Cardinals won on the strength of one big swing by their version of Mr. October, and Wainwright's indomitable right arm.
Marlon Byrd dropped a single into center leading off the second inning. The Cardinals shifted their defense for Pedro Alvarez to pull, and it paid off. Second baseman Matt Carpenter reached up to snag Alvarez's sharp liner and doubled Byrd off first base.
After that, Wainwright retired the next 10 batters.
“The way he was pitching, it puts some pressure on you,” admitted Cole, who became the Pirates' first rookie pitcher to start an elimination game since Babe Adams worked Game 7 of the 1909 World Series.
The moment did not prove too big for Cole, the top overall pick in 2011, who made his big league debut in June. The 23-year-old righty pitched well — five innings, three hits, two runs, a walk and five strikeouts — but was done in by poor support.
“I knew I was pitching against a tough pitcher,” Wainwright said. “The guy throws 100 mph and what is he, like, 18 years old, too? He pitches with a lot of poise, and he's fired up out there. You can tell he wants it. I was prepared for battle. I was just fortunate David Freese made a big swing and we pushed another tough run across.”
With two outs in the second, Jon Jay worked an eight-pitch at-bat for a walk. Cole threw a 1-2 slider to Freese, who launched it into the Pirates' bullpen behind the left field wall.
In 37 career playoff games, Freese is batting .325 with seven homers and 29 RBI.
Reliever Justin Wilson gave up a run on Jay's two-out, RBI single in the sixth.
The Pirates got their run on three infield singles in the seventh inning. Justin Morneau reached with two outs. Byrd followed with a bouncer up the middle. Shortstop Pete Kozma grabbed it, but threw to first base instead of getting the easy out at second. Byrd beat the throw.
Alvarez followed with a chopper over the head of first baseman Matt Adams. Carpenter tumbled and stopped the ball along the foul line and made an awkward throw that bounced and rolled to the plate. Morneau slid in safely.
Alvarez is the first player in MLB history to get at least one RBI in each of his first six career postseason games.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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