I'll admit it: this series has been looming on the calendar for a long time, terrifying me. Obviously the Pirates are a good baseball team this year, and obviously they've played pretty well against good teams all year, but the prospect of five games against the best team in baseball right at the trade deadline has always been right there. I don't expect this Pirate team to fold up the way last year's team did, but thinking about laying an egg in this series has been hanging out on the outside of my conscious mind for a couple of months now.
And so there was no better way to kick this five-game set off than with four Pirate runs in ten pitches. Jose Tabata drew a walk, Neil Walker got hit by a pitch, Andrew McCutchen singled Tabata home, and Pedro Alvarez cleared the bases off with a three-run blast. Francisco Liriano cruised through the Cardinals lineup the first time through, needing only 34 pitches to set the first nine hitters of the game down, and all of those looming fears felt pretty silly just about as soon as this game started.
For much of the game, it seemed like Liriano would be the story. He was perfect through three, got through five without breaking a sweat, gave up a run on a long triple and not much else in the sixth, and then ran out of gas with two outs in the seventh. He escaped the jam he created for himself that inning and finished the evening up with seven innings, eight strikeouts, four hits, two walks (both in the seventh), and just the one run allowed. What the Pirates needed after Alvarez's first inning homer was a door slammed shut in the face of the Cardinals, and Liriano happily provided it.
As if that weren't enough, the Pirates then poured it on the Cardinals with a five-run bottom of the seventh. Gaby Sanchez ended the Pirates long streak without a sacrifice fly by bringing home Neil Walker with a one-out, bases loaded sac fly. Alex Presley followed that with an RBI single, then Clint Barmes lined a two-run double (his second double of the night!) over Matt Holliday's head and towards the North Side Notch. Even Starling Marte joined the hit parade with a pinch-hit, seeing-eye, RBI single.
All of the usual caveats apply here: it's just one game, this is a five-game series, etc. etc., but let's take 12 hours or so and let this one soak in. The Pirates haven't played all that poorly since the All-Star break ended, but they haven't played all that well, either. They had an opportunity to make up a bunch of ground in Miami this weekend with the Reds and Cardinals both getting swept, and didn't really capitalize. They came out tonight with guns blazing, though, and it was awfully cathartic.
That's one. There are two more tomorrow, and this one can only be enjoyed until tomorrow's double-header starts.