Pirates punchless vs. St. Louis' Suppan, fall, 11-1
Whitey Herzog, right rear, is paraded through Busch Stadium by the Budweiser Clydesdales Saturday before the Pirates-Cardinals game. The Cardinals retired Herzog's No. 24. Herzog was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last weekend.
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ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates, playing on a prayer with a 23-man roster because of all the trades, only four available bullpen arms and a minor league recall on the mound to face contending St. Louis ... well, that part went as might have been expected: The Cardinals coasted, 11-1, Saturday night at Busch Stadium.
Daniel McCutchen walked six while giving up four runs -- three earned -- in 5 2/3 innings. He gave up six hits, including an Albert Pujols home run.
The part that was not expected: The offense faced a starting pitcher seemingly clinging to his career, and Jeff Suppan somehow put up 5 1/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts.
"We were impatient a little off Suppan, got jumpy, tried to make things happen," Pirates manager John Russell said. "It's the sign of a young team. They wanted to really get out there and get aggressive with him.
"He saw that and really started throwing a lot of offspeed to us. It's an adjustment our guys will make. They're young. They want to get the big hit, do good things and ... sometimes, that just works against them."
Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 2:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (5-9, 5.09) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (14-6, 2.23).
Key matchup: Wainwright again is among the league's best, but he is coming off his season-worst start in allowing six runs and six hits over five innings Tuesday in an 8-2 loss to New York.
Of note: Jose Tabata has been quite clutch, batting .406 with runners in scoring position -- 13 for 32 -- since his June 9 promotion. That includes 6 for his past 10.
In all, the Pirates would strike out nine times in going down mostly quietly, as Jeff Clement's pinch-hit home run in the eighth avoided a second consecutive shutout.
Most of the recent struggles have come against aces such as Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Carpenter, but Suppan had entered 0-6 with a 6.18 ERA, a stunning .359 opponents' batting average and a ratio of one strikeout every two innings. And yet, he recorded his first victory since Sept. 19, 2009, struck out the side in the fifth through the heart of the Pirates' order, allowed only five hits, walked no one and, at least for another turn, kept his spot in the Cardinals' rotation.
"I've been working very hard to make improvements," Suppan said. "Tonight, I was just able to execute my pitches. I went pitch by pitch."
A sub-.500 pitcher for his career, Suppan is 15-3 against the Pirates.
The Pirates had a good chance to leap ahead in the first with two aboard and one out when Garrett Jones' popup was dropped by catcher Yadier Molina. It looked like bases would be loaded, but second-base umpire Mike Everitt ruled that the infield-fly rule was in effect -- apparently very belatedly -- and Neil Walker, who had advanced to second, was tagged out for a double play.
Russell argued to no avail.
"They called infield fly," Russell said. "I didn't really understand it. They tried to explain. I still didn't understand. I'm told not to make comments about the umpires in the paper, so I'll leave it at that."
St. Louis pecked away at McCutchen from there. Two walks and Suppan's bases-loaded single in the second brought one, two more walks and Jones' throwing error in the fourth brought another, Pujols' solo shot came in the fifth, and a Felipe Lopez RBI single in the sixth to make it 4-0.
McCutchen, 1-5 with a 7.94 ERA, has yet to prove his stuff plays at the major league level and, in this one, appeared determined to avoid contact in issuing all the walks. He generally has good command.
Russell praised his competitiveness, particularly in stranding five runners through the first four innings.
"I thought he battled. We weren't scoring any runs, and he went out there ... it wasn't sharp, sharp, sharp, but he kept after it," Russell said. "He had chances to get stuck in a big inning, and he'd get out of it. I thought he really competed well, with maybe not his best stuff."
McCutchen, though, acknowledged being uncharacteristically cautious.
"I pitched different than I usually do," he said. "I wanted to stay off the middle of the plate, try to stay out of the big inning. I would have liked to have thrown more strikes. Most times, if I get ahead, 2-0, I'll play the percentages and know that they hit .300 in that count and, seven out of 10 times, they'll be out. Tonight, I tried to not live in the middle of the plate, not give them anything they could hit a long ways."
Probably a good idea: McCutchen had given up 10 home runs in his first 28 1/3 innings, and the only one on this night was to the great Pujols.
It was not immediately clear if McCutchen will remain in the rotation. He formally was recalled Saturday morning to replace Brad Lincoln and, in what probably was a promising sign, he was not demoted immediately after pitching, as happened on two previous occasions.
"I know I keep saying this, but this is something to build off," McCutchen said. "If I could have switched a few things around, it could have been a different ball game."
Steven Jackson was the freshest of those four available arms -- Evan Meek was a fifth reliever, but he pitched two innings the previous night -- and he allowed two more runs. Wil Ledezma and Sean Gallagher, newcomers but suddenly vital pieces in light of four veteran relievers gone in a week, combined to give up five more in the eighth.
Clement's home run, 418 feet beyond center field, came in the eighth, his first at-bat since being recalled in the morning.
"I made some adjustments to my rhythm and timing," Clement said. "I felt like I had become a little too mechanical in my approach when I was up earlier."
The Pirates, 2-3 on this trip, will try to avoid the sweep this afternoon against Adam Wainwright, 14-6 with a 2.23 ERA.
First Published August 1, 2010 12:00 am