There was a brief moment in time when the outcome of this game was in question. Gerrit Cole cruised through the Cardinals’ lineup the first time he faced them on the strength of his fastball, but it took a while for his other pitches to click. He ran into some trouble in the fourth inning, then gave up a two-run homer to Matt Carpenter in the fifth to make it at 3-2 game. It suddenly seemed like a concern that the Pirates couldn’t get anyone on base for any of their three early-game solo shots.
That was when Pedro Alvarez took over the game with his base-running. First, Alvarez hit into what looked like a double play, but beat the throw to first. Then, he stole second base (with Yadier Molina behind the plate!). Finally, he charged home from second on a sharply hit Russell Martin single, slipping past Molina with a really deft slide. That opened up the floodgates; Neil Walker singled Martin to third, and he scored from there after possibly (probably) hopping in front of a Yadier Molina throw to third on what was about to become a botched double-steal. Gaby Sanchez singled Walker home. The Pirates added on another run in the seventh and five more in the eighth, and that’s how a close game suddenly turns into a laugher.
Besides the offensive outburst (which was obviously welcome after that frustrating series against the Cubs), Cole is the obvious story. The first time through the lineup, he leaned heavily on his fastball and induced a ton of weak grounders. The Cards started to square him up the second time through, which culminated in Carpenter’s homer in his third at-bat. After that, Cole’s curveball started to look much better and he cruised through the sixth and seventh. The only hiccup in those innings was a walk to Carpenter that almost certainly should’ve been a strikeout (though that’s neither here nor there, really). He was still popping 98 on the gun in the seventh inning after he went over the 100 pitch mark. He wasn’t at his best tonight, but he was still awfully good.
Pedro Alvarez’s power also gets a mention. In the second inning, he hammered an outside fastball onto the landing behind the left field bleachers, which is a ridiculous place for a left-handed hitter to deposit a baseball. In the fourth, Miller threw him a fat 1-2 change-up and Alvarez put it over the right-center grandstand. It’s odd that his power is an honorable mention to his foot speed in a game in which he hit two homers, but here we are. Travis Ishikawa also crushed a Miller fastball into the right field stands for his first Pirate homer.
The one other player that I think deserves a mention from this one is Russell Martin. Early on in the game it looked like he and Cole got crossed up on a few pitches, one of which resulted in Martin back-handing a 98-mph fastball that nearly removed his entire arm from its socket. Martin caught or blocked almost anything, though, and his defense certainly saved a run when Cole’s command briefly deserted him in the fourth. He also made a legitimately incredible play on a Peter Bourjos bunt to start the fifth inning, which theoretically kept Carpenter’s homer from being a three-run shot. The final score wasn’t close, but it’s awfully hard to say what path this one could’ve headed down without Martin behind the plate.
After three nailbitingly close games with frustratingly little offense against the Cubs, this one was a lot of fun to watch.