In 2011 and 2012, the Cardinals put together an amazing September run to chase down a playoff spot. Baseball karma being what it is, now they get to know what that feels like from a different point of view.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have apparently forgotten how to lose. While their schedule has been favorable, it’s been no less forgiving than St. Louis’s. Even though the Redbirds have gone 15-7 this month, a quite respectable tally, the Pirates have gone 16-6, a total even more remarkable when you realize that they started off the month by being swept by the Cardinals. Since then, 16-3 and those three losses have come by a combined four runs. If you are a Pirates fan, you are thinking this is a team of destiny. After all, that’s what we were feeling in 2011, right?
Last night could have smothered those flames somewhat, but instead it fanned them. The Cardinals rallied from a three-run deficit, only to see the game escape them in 10 innings while Pittsburgh got its second straight one-run victory down in Atlanta. Suddenly a race that looked put away earlier this month now is at 1.5 games and the clinching–if it comes, and that if grows larger every day–will come with just a game or two to spare.
It was a bad time for Shelby Miller to have any sort of reversion to the Miller we saw most of the year. Of course, throwing fly balls in Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out is a pretty big recipe for disaster and the home run ball did bite Miller. The two run shot by Wellington Castillo in the second was a no-doubter, though it looked like the solo shot by Matt Szczur wasn’t a bad pitch, just a ball that got up in the air and carried out. Lots of days, lots of parks, I think that’s a fly out. Wasn’t that day, wasn’t that park.
Miller walked a couple as well, which we’ve not seen much out of him lately, but he did strike out eight batters in 4.1 innings. That seems to be the Cubs MO right now–they’ll strike out a lot, but when they hit it it’s going a long way. You wonder if this game had been at Busch what the results would have been. It wasn’t, though–you gotta count the game that was played, not the one you’d like to have seen.
Down 3-0 to Kyle Hendricks is a dangerous proposition, given how Hendricks has shut down the Cardinal offense every time he’s faced them. It was more of the same here until they finally broke through in the sixth. Big Darn Hero (OK, they don’t quite say it like that in Firefly) Matt Holliday tied it up with a long ball after an RBI groundout by Jon Jay. Suddenly, things were looking up. If you could get three, surely you could get four and let the bullpen take this home, right?
They should have. Holliday did his part again in the eighth, leading off the inning with a double. This is where a winning team, a playoff-caliber team, gets the run in. Instead, Matt Adams hit a grounder to third that couldn’t move him over. The Cubs then obliged by throwing a wild pitch, which did the job for Adams.
One out. Runner at third. Jhonny Peralta up. All the Cards needed was a medium fly ball. Nobody’s asking for a home run, though it’d have been gladly accepted. Not even asking for a hit, really. Just a fly ball that can let Holliday scamper in and set it up to have Pat Neshek and Trevor Rosenthal lock it down. Folks had their hands on that “4”, ready to flip the magic number to “3”.
Instead, Peralta struck out and then Yadier Molina grounded out, ending the threat. After that, it just seemed to be a matter of time before the Cubs figured out a way to get a run across, which they did in the 10th against Neshek. (Give Neshek credit, he almost escaped that inning; he caught a break when Anthony Rizzo–who is quickly learning the ways of Aramis Ramirez–stayed so barely in the park and then got two outs before Castillo got the ball past Peter Bourjos.) Peralta went 0-4 with two strikeouts, getting him the Goat.
As I said on Twitter last night, you’ve got to give some major kudos to Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons. The last time he pitched was September 10 in Cincinnati, almost a full two weeks ago. So last night, he gets called into the game when Miller has allowed the home run to Szczur and then allowed a hit to Hendricks and a walk to Javier Baez. Two on, one out and that’s the situation you throw a rusty pitcher into. All he has to do is get Rizzo and Jorge Soler to keep the deficit where it’s at. And somehow, that’s exactly what he does. That three-run rally wouldn’t have made a hill of beans had he not been able to keep the Cubs off the board there. That might be his last appearance of the year–something in me doubts he’ll make the postseason roster–and if so, that’s a heck of a way to go out.
Clinching the division in Wrigley would have been nice, but now the focus is on just trying to win the series. Given the Braves and Pirates play again tomorrow while the Cardinals are off, there’s a possibility the two teams could go into the weekend tied up, something we don’t want to see at all. That means that John Lackey needs to pitch like he did last time out, where he took a one-run game into the eighth inning, and not like he did the starts before it, when he was giving up four or five runs on a regular basis. This is about as close to a must-win as you can get without it being literal.
The Cubs got to him a little bit last time, tacking on three unearned runs to his two earned tallies. You hope that he’s made some adjustments and can keep this team in the ball park. The FOX Sports Midwest guys flashed up a stat last night–the discrepancy in home runs between these two teams in their head-to-head games is astounding, something like 26-8 Cubs now. There’s a ton of power in those pinstripes.
The situation for the Cardinals doesn’t get any rosier when you look at who the Cubs are throwing out there tonight. Jake Arrieta is quickly developing into what most people thought he’d be when he was coming up through the Orioles organization. Last time out, all he did was take a no-hitter into the eighth against Cincinnati, no big deal. He’s 9-5 with a 2.65 ERA on the season, though he does have two big blowups (nine runs in five innings at Colorado, six runs in four innings at Cincinnati) in his last 10 starts.
They’ve not seen him a lot, but they’ve not done much with him when they have. His last outing against the Cardinals was July 26, when he allowed five hits and two runs in six innings. Another game like that and the frustration could start to boil over in Cardinal Nation. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!
If you are scoreboard watching, Jeff Locke goes for the Pirates tonight against Julio Teheran of the Braves. The Braves probably have the pitching edge there. We’ll see if that means anything with this Bucco team, however!