An outstanding season; a lousy, no-doubt-about-it ending. There's only one thing for the Pirates to do: Tip your cap to the St. Louis Cardinals and move on.
The 2014 season starts now.
The St. Louis was the better team tonight at Busch Stadium. Adam Wainwright was the better pitcher. David Freese and Matt Adams were the better hitters.
The Cardinals took an early lead on Freese's second-inning two-run homer off Gerrit Cole, and, as it turned out, that was all they would need in a 6-1 win that sends them off the NLCS where they will play the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Unlike their last postseason appearance, this one will not haunt the Pirates. It's never easy to lose a decisive postseason game, but it's easier to lose it by five runs than one -- after leading in the ninth. This is no 1992 redux. This was a case of -- on this given night -- the better team winning.
Cole did well. He made one bad pitch in his five innings. He allowed two runs on three hits while walking one and striking out five. The chances are good he will pitch in the postseason again and soon.
Their offense, a weakness most of the season, undid the Pirates. They scored two runs in the final two games. It's tough to win with that kind of run production.
The Pirates best chance came in the seventh when, trailing 3-0, that had two one and two out with Pedro Alvarez at the plate. Alvarez delivered, but only an infield single that scored one run. Russell Martin ended the inning with a ground out.
The run was a bit of a gift, compliments of St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma. He appeared to have the out to end the inning on Marlon Byrd's bouncer, but elected to go to first instead of the easier force out at second. His weak throw to first was late, which enabled Alvarez to come to bat.
The Cardinals broke the game open in eighth with three runs, including a prodigious two-run homer by Adams off Mark Melancon, who gave up more home runs in this series than he did all season. Melancon eventually had to be relieved by Jason Grilli.
Starling Marte and Neil Walker, batting at the top of the order, never got untracked in the series against St. Louis. Marte had one hit in 19 at bats, Walker was hitless in 19 at bats.
And so the Pirates' season of unexpected success and one that appears to be a harbinger of better days ahead comes to a close. There are no guarantees. But the Pirates look to be positioned to succeed in the years ahead. How far that success can carry them remains to be determined.
Most of the key players will return next year with the notable exceptions of Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett, who becomes free agents after the season. A good nucleus is in place, but the Pirates need to add players if they wish to make more post-season appearances. The addition of Byrd in late August clearly showed how much another power bat can bring to the lineup.
The Pirates had a grand and glorious chance to advance. They led St. Louis two games to one but could not win either of the final two.
The off-season will be shorter than it has since 1992 when that season ended in infamy on Oct. 14. Pirates fans can look forward with optimism toward 2014. Pirates players can walk away from 2013 with their heads held high.
First Published October 9, 2013 7:06 PM