Pirates offense silent behind Ivan Nova in 2-1 loss to Cardinals
April 17, 2017 9:25 PM
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Pirates starter Ivan Nova allows a solo home run to Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong in the third inning Monday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Jeff Roberson / AP
St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Randal Grichuk dives and catches a fly ball by Pittsburgh Pirates' Jordy Mercer in the seventh inning Monday in St. Louis.
Jeff Roberson / AP
The Pirates' Francisco Cervelli reacts after lining out to St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Randal Grichuk to end the top of the sixth inning Monday.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ST. LOUIS — John Jaso flung the bat away, dismayed, and beelined down the baseline. The St. Louis Cardinals’ Jose Martinez raced to first base, crossed over the bag and clapped his right hand against his mitt. The Pirates’ only offensive outburst Monday was over. The game was too.
On a night when right-hander Ivan Nova tossed an eight-inning complete game at Busch Stadium, his reward was the loss. The Pirates’ bats, fresh off a three-game road sweep of the defending-champion Chicago Cubs, barely awakened as the reeling Cardinals triumphed, 2-1.
The hometown crowd was relieved to have witnessed a win, given that the Cardinals (4-9) spent their weekend getting swept on the road by the New York Yankees. On Monday, right-hander Lance Lynn threw seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walk, and struck out five.
Nova went the distance on 78 pitches. He allowed five hits, walked none, and struck out three.
“It was unfortunate our bats couldn’t come through for a performance like that,” said Josh Bell, who had two of the Pirates’ five hits. “We still have a long road ahead of us. We still have [Tuesday]. We still have the series to take care of. Turn the page, and on to the next game.”
The culprit, according to Bell, was “untimely hitting.” The Pirates hit some balls hard, but too few and too infrequently. Their only run came in the ninth against Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh, who had allowed five runs in 4⅔ prior innings this season. Bell singled with one out, and pinch-hitter Gregory Polanco smacked a two-out RBI double before Jaso’s grounder ended the game.
The Pirates offense did little else of note, other than this oddity: Josh Harrison, hit by pitch in the second and fourth innings Monday, was plunked in four consecutive plate appearances, spanning two days in two cities. Researchers at Elias Sports Bureau could not come up with another instance in the past 80 seasons when a player was hit by pitch four times in a row.
“Talk about the game being contagious,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Missing from Pittsburgh’s starting lineup Monday was Polanco, who’s been nursing a groin injury. The Pirates otherwise had a full boat. The Cardinals’ lineup, however, was without a number of familiar faces. Jhonny Peralta, Matt Adams, Jedd Gyorko and Yadier Molina sat, and Matt Carpenter was scratched an hour before the game because of a finger injury.
One player manager Mike Matheny didn’t dream of removing? Kolten Wong.
Wong stepped in against Nova leading off the third and tattooed a first-pitch fastball into the Cardinals’ bullpen beyond the right-field wall. It was Wong’s first extra-base hit in 27 at-bats this season, rapidly inflating his .148 batting average. For the Pirates, the outcome was not new. Of Wong’s 29 career homers, he’s had seven — and an .814 OPS — against Pittsburgh.
“He has been a thorn in our side,” Hurdle said.
The pitch missed its mark, Nova explained. Catcher Francisco Cervelli was set up to receive the fastball low and away, but it ran across the plate and into the path of Wong’s pure lefty swing.
After the homer, Nova was automatic. He sent down 12 batters in a row, and with accelerating efficiency. He threw 12 pitches in the fourth inning, eight in the fifth and four in the sixth. The string of outs ended with three seventh-inning singles. Randal Grichuk singled, stole, took third when Cervelli’s throw bounced into center and scored the deciding run on Martinez’s single.
Nova soldiered on, but the offense — which rallied late Sunday — remained silent. His results since arriving in Pittsburgh at the trade deadline last July are striking. In 14 starts for the Pirates, Nova has thrown four complete games and had 60 strikeouts to three walks in 84⅓ innings.
In 20 innings this season, Nova has issued no walks.
“Because I’m not afraid to throw strikes,” Nova offered.
Nova went to only one three-ball count. His defense, despite Cervelli’s error, was on its toes in the 2 hour, 14 minute game — “He was putting on a clinic,” Bell said — and contributed with sparking plays from third baseman David Freese, shortstop Jordy Mercer and center fielder Starling Marte.
Nova put the Pirates in position to win. But when they walk away losers, Nova said, so does he.
“The personal stuff right now doesn’t matter,” he said. “You want to help the team win games.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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