Cardinals sweep Pirates with third consecutive 2-1 win
April 19, 2017 6:05 PM
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
The Cardinals' Dexter Fowler is congratulated by third-base coach Chris Maloney after hitting a solo home run in the third inning Wednesday against the Pirates in St. Louis.
Jeff Roberson / AP
Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole heads back to the mound as St. Louis Cardinals' Dexter Fowler rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the third inning Wednesday.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ST. LOUIS — Out of the batter’s box, Gregory Polanco was thinking double. That was before his two-out, bases-loaded smash in the eighth inning Wednesday was snared by St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter, who dived, bolted to his feet and won a race to the bag, sliding to touch before Polanco.
Polanco spiked his batting helmet in the dirt. It settled in the outfield grass. Polanco stood nearby, hands on hips.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
For the third day in a row at Busch Stadium, the Pirates lost by a 2-1 score. In researchable club history, which extends to 1913, the Pirates had never before lost three consecutive games 2-1 or been swept in a three-game series when allowing six total runs or fewer, according to stats.com.
“Just because you only give up six runs doesn’t mean you’re going to win games,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We played good baseball. We pitched well. They were one run better than us three straight games.”
Five series into the regular season, the Pirates (6-9) have alternated sweeps. They swept Atlanta and Chicago; they swept by Boston, Cincinnati and St. Louis. Informed of the streaky, sweep-y trend, right fielder John Jaso laughed and replied, “Is that right? It’s bizarre. Such is this game, and such is life. … If we are working with sweeps, let’s sweep this next series.”
The entirety of the offense Wednesday was via solo home runs — one from the Pirates’ Josh Bell, and two from the Cardinals’ Dexter Fowler. Both players entered the game with no homers. Fowler carried a .143 batting average into the day. He went 3 for 4 and homered twice off Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole, who was otherwise effective in six innings of two-run baseball.
The Cardinals (6-9) had eight hits, the Pirates five. On the visitors’ side, Andrew McCutchen’s hitting streak ended at nine games, though he walked in the eighth-inning rally. Reliever Kevin Siegrist loaded the bases on two errors and a walk before Polanco was stopped by Carpenter.
“I thought it was by him,” Fowler remarked after the game.
“If [Polanco] catches that ball ⅛-inch lower,” Hurdle said, “it’s in the air, and it’s not going to be caught.”
After strong starts by right-handers Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl in the first two games of the series, both defeats in which the offense disappeared, the Pirates spoiled another in the series finale. Cole allowed six hits and two walks, struck out eight and lowered his ERA to 4.70.
Before the game, Hurdle mentioned that pitchers around the league have “punched back” against Bell. Look at the heat-maps, Hurdle said, and see all the pitches on the inner half of the plate. In the batter’s box, Bell has received few fastballs over the plate, or middle-away. Bell entered the game batting .200 with two extra-base hits, both doubles, in 40 at-bats.
After Fowler homered on a 2-0 heater in the third inning, Bell answered. Benefitting from a fastball down the center of the plate in the fourth, Bell crushed it to center. Fowler retreated to the warning track, leaped and hung onto the wall as the ball landed in the seats. The shot, which went an estimated 410 feet, was Bell’s first homer since Sept. 24.
It also was the first hit off Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha. He permitted no further damage, giving up four hits, two walks and a run in 6⅔ innings. He struck out three.
In the fifth, Fowler yanked Cole’s first-pitch fastball to right field and tucked the homer inside the foul pole. Afterward, Cole was miffed with his execution, saying, “He was just one step ahead of us there, again. Got to make quality pitches. Got to be more convicted. He was all over it.”
The Pirates had two baserunners in the seventh and three in the eighth but couldn’t break through against the Cardinals bullpen. In the ninth, Jaso singled, his second hit of the game and the season, but rookie Jose Osuna struck out on Trevor Rosenthal’s 99 mph fastball for the final out.
“Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way,” Cole said. “We lost by one run three nights in a row. A hit here or there could drastically change the outcome of this series.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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