Pirates foil Carpenter's no-hit bid but fall, 2-1
Pirate's second baseman Freddy Sanchez runs under a ball hit in a steady drizzle during the third inning as right fielder Brandon Moss looks on.
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ST. LOUIS -- Two rolling balls that narrowly eluded the gloves of diving second basemen played a paramount role in the Pirates' 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday at Busch Stadium.
Each came in the seventh inning ...
The first was off the bat of Ramon Vazquez, past Skip Schumaker and up the middle for a single that foiled Chris Carpenter's bid for a no-hitter at 6 2/3 innings, the lone blemish on an otherwise brilliant afternoon for St. Louis' returning ace.
The next was off the bat of Yadier Molina, past Freddy Sanchez even though it probably should have been a double play, and up the middle. That foiled Ross Ohlendorf's bid for a shutout and, ultimately, resulted in both of St. Louis' runs.
"Should have had it," Sanchez lamented.
- Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (2-6, 4.03 ERA last year) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (9-14, 4.81)
- Key matchup: Cueto is coming off a promising rookie year, but Freddy Sanchez had hits off him in half his six at-bats in 2008.
- Of note: Cincinnati took only one of three from the New York Mets, but first baseman Joey Votto was huge in going 7 for 13 with two home runs and seven RBIs. The Pirates know Votto and the Reds well, having faced them six times in spring training.
There was plenty of lamenting to go around for the Pirates, who mustered nothing more than that Vazquez hit in splitting this opening four-game series, but be sure that none of it was related to thinking they should have had their way with Carpenter: He struck out seven, walked two and, most remarkable, allowed only two balls to reach the outfield in his seven innings.
Carpenter won the Cy Young Award in 2005 but was limited to five appearances the past two seasons because of two elbow surgeries. He had a healthy offseason and an exceptional spring training, but, still, no one could have expected a return to peak form so quickly.
Or could they?
"When you're really, really good, you pull off something like that," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "You go out there with that kind of command, that kind of stuff, that kind of concentration. When he's healthy, he's as good as anybody."
La Russa then referred to the Pirates.
"Ask them," he said. "He didn't give them anything to hit."
"He was really sharp, obviously," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He kept his pitches down, really kept our hitters off balance. You couldn't tell he'd missed any time at all."
"To me, he looked like the usual Carpenter," Vazquez said. "He had great stuff. He was mixing pitches well. Great breaking ball. Good slider. He was tough."
Carpenter, not exactly the excitable type, downplayed it all.
"The results were good," he said. "It was nice to get out there the first time and be able to locate my fastball and cutter, moving the ball around, keeping it down and getting some grounders. It was nice to get out there and do it again."
Strangely, the Pirates had a chance to win even if they had been no-hit, thanks to an unearned run in the third inning.
Vazquez walked and, when Ohlendorf tried to bunt him ahead, first baseman Albert Pujols' throw to second skittered into center field and allowed Vazquez to take third. Nyjer Morgan's sharp grounder was stopped by a Pujols dive, and Vazquez burst toward home. Pujols' throw pulled catcher Yadier Molina away from the plate.
"Aggravating," La Russa called the run.
The Pirates tried to add to that 1-0 lead in the seventh, when Vazquez finally dented Carpenter by getting just enough of a 3-1 sinker.
"I got ahead and was looking for my pitch," Vazquez said. "He's one of those guys where he's going to give you one pitch to hit. You just don't want to miss it."
That put runners at the corners, but Carpenter recovered to strike out Jack Wilson and set up St. Louis' decisive rally in the bottom half.
Ryan Ludwick opened with a single to center off Ohlendorf, and Khalil Greene's sacrifice bunt attempt turned into a single, as well, when it found just the right patch of grass.
"Things had been going pretty well before that, and my arm still felt the same," Ohlendorf said. "But they strung together a couple hits."
Molina was next, and he rolled what appeared to be a double-play ball toward Sanchez. But Sanchez mis-timed his dive, his knee hitting the ground early, and the tying single was by him.
"He did hit the ball hard, and it jumped a little off the mound, but I should have had it," Sanchez said. "I don't know what happened."
Sean Burnett relieved and promptly gave up pinch-hitter Brian Barden's RBI drop into center to put the Cardinals ahead, 2-1.
Ohlendorf was charged with both runs and seven hits in six-plus innings.
No pitcher has no-hit the Pirates since St. Louis' Bob Gibson on Aug. 14, 1971. That is the longest any team in Major League Baseball has gone without being no-hit.
First Published April 10, 2009 12:00 am