Photo is credited to Getty Images.
In their first series of the season, the Pirates made a statement by taking all three games from their archrival Cardinals. During the three games, the Cardinals committed four errors and struck out 37 times.
Game One: Pirates, 4 Cardinals, 1 — WP: Francisco Liriano (1-0) LP: Adam Wainwright (0-1)
Backed by a strong start from lefty Francisco Liriano and the Cardinals’ inability to capitalize in key situations, the Pirates were able to win the first game of the regular season. Liriano shut out the Cardinals for six innings, but the Cardinals were given multiple chances to score. St. Louis stranded ten runners in the game, including the bases loaded in the fourth and sixth innings. Liriano struck out ten batters and walked five.
Adam Wainwright started for the Cardinals and was not nearly as sharp as he had hoped to be, allowing three runs on six hits and three walks in six frames. Nevertheless, a few runs of support would have made Wainwright’s outing look that much better.
The Pirates got their scoring started in the bottom of the second inning with a pair of RBIs from John Jaso and Liriano. Polanco doubled to lead off the frame, and Liriano singled him in after a walk by Jordy Mercer and a groundout. Liriano’s base hit sent Mercer to second base, who quickly scored on Jaso’s single.
The Pirates added to their lead in the sixth inning. Following a leadoff triple off the bat of catcher Francisco Cervelli and the walking of Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison hit a ball to center fielder Randal Grichuk that was deep enough for Cervelli to score on and give the Pirates a 3-0 lead; however, it was not deep enough for Polanco tag and advance to second. Grichuk made a solid throw to cut down Polanco at the second sack and record the second out of the inning as well as his first outfield assist of the season.
Pittsburgh further padded their lead on an RBI-double from Mercer in the eighth, which gave Pittsburgh a comfortable, 4-0 lead. The Pirates went with Mark Melancon in the top of the ninth, and the Cardinals strived to get something brewing against Pittsburgh’s closer. With two outs and two runners on, Matt Carpenter singled in Yadier Molina, who was 2-for-4 on the day, to extend the game and bring the tying run to the plate. But Melancon shut the door, and the Cardinals scoring was halted.
Former Cardinal David Freese started for the Pirates at third base in Sunday’s opener and hit third. In addition to three stellar defensive plays, Freese went 2-for-4.
-Two Cardinals — relief pitcher Seung Hwan Oh and outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker — made their major-league debuts. Oh pitched a scoreless seventh inning and recorded his first two strikeouts. Hazelbaker served as the pinch-hitter for Wainwright in the seventh inning. Hazelbaker went down on strikes.
-Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham exited the ball game in the second inning with left oblique tightness. He underwent an MRI after the game, and the Cardinals placed him on the 15-day disabled list on Monday. To fill his place on the 25-man roster, the Cardinals promoted shortstop Aledmys Diaz from Triple-A Memphis.
-The Pirates and Gregory Polanco agreed to a five-year, $35 million deal on Sunday that will go into effect in 2017. The deal will keep the homegrown outfielder in Pittsburgh through the 2021 season.
Game Two/11: Pirates, 6 Cardinals, 5 — WP: Kyle Lobstein (1-0) LP: Seth Maness (0-1)
A game that featured its two starting pitchers for no more than five innings turned into a battle of the bullpens that would require two additional innings to settle. Despite retiring eighteen batters in a row, St. Louis’s bullpen would find itself on the losing end of game’s final outcome.
The Pirates began the scoring in the second inning. Catcher Francisco Cervelli began the inning with a single and was then drove in by a triple off the bat of Gregory Polanco, the recipient of the most recent contract extended by the Pirates. Josh Harrison, who follows Polanco in Pittsburgh’s lineup, pushed Polanco across the plate next via a groundout, giving the Bucs an early 2-0 edge.
The top of the third inning was led off by Aledmys Diaz, who, as noted, replaced the injured Tommy Pham on St. Louis’s 25-man roster. In his first major-league at-bat, Diaz poked a single into right field, achieving his first hit in the majors and reaching base to get something rolling offensively. Starting pitcher Michael Wacha laid down a bunt, pushing Diaz to second base for the top of the batting order. responded in the top of the third inning, capitalizing on a rare fielding error committed by left fielder Starling Marte. The Cardinals tied the score at two.
The score would not remain 2-2 for long, however, as first baseman John Jaso led off the Pirate third inning with a base hit and was brought in by Andrew McCutchen’s double to give the Pirates a 3-2 lead. David Freese singled to right field following McCutchen’s double, allowing the speedy McCutchen to make a run for home plate. Cardinals’ right fielder Stephen Piscotty fielded the single and made a strong throw toward home plate. On one bounce, the ball reached catcher Yadier Molina, who placed a quick tag on Pittsburgh’s center fielder. The tag was just quick enough, and the Cardinals recorded the first out of the inning before inducing a double play to end the third.
In the fourth inning, the Cardinals recorded their first home run of the season when Jedd Gyorko homered following Brandon Moss being hit by a Jon Niese delivery. An inning later, Piscotty tripled and soon scored on a throwing error by shortstop Jordy Mercer. But that lead, too, would not do, as Pittsburgh tied it up in their next turn to hack, making the most out of the rookie Diaz’s fielding error. The blunder allowed McCutchen, who had singled two batters earlier, to score and David Freese, who singled after McCutchen, to take third on the groundball — the one the error was committed on — hit by Cervelli.
The Cardinals used all but one of their seven relief pitchers in Tuesday game. The six that they did use — Tyler Lyons, Seung Hwan Oh, Kevin Siegrist, Jonathan Broxton, Trevor Rosenthal, and Seth Maness — fared notably well for the most part, combining to strike out nine. Oh, making just his second major-league appearance, struck out the side in the sixth. Pittsburgh’s bullpen was just as splendid, as it — Arquimedes Caminero, Tony Watson, Neftali Feliz, Mark Melancon, and Kyle Lobstein — tallied six strikeouts, three from Lobstein, who pitched the tenth and eleventh innings.
The Pirates picked the pocket of Cardinals’ reliever Seth Maness in the bottom of the eleventh inning. Maness, who pitched a scoreless tenth, walked the second batter he faced, Polanco, in the frame. Polanco was moved up by a Josh Harrison single and scored on a walk-off, RBI-single off the bat of Mercer.
McCutchen, who did not record a hit in the first game of the series, was 3-for-5 with an RBI in Pittsburgh’s extra-inning victory.
– Cardinal Jeremy Hazelbaker, a non-roster inivitee to spring training that broke camp with the team, recorded his first major-league hit in Tuesday’s game. The hit — a double that came while hitting for Broxton — was off of Melancon.
Game Three: Pirates, 5 Cardinals, 1 — WP: Juan Nicasio (1-0) LP: Mike Leake (0-1)
After draining their stock of relief pitchers the game before, one thing each team needed in the series finale was a strong start from their starting pitcher. It was a matchup between two newcomers to their respective teams — Juan Nicasio for Pittsburgh, and Mike Leake for St. Louis.
It did not take long for the Pirates to get on the board and elevate Leake’s pitch count. With two outs and Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte on base with singles, Leake surrendered a walk to Francisco Cervelli, loading the bases. A walk to Gregory Polanco allowed McCutchen to score and take a 1-0 lead. It took 42 pitches, but Leake was able to escape an inning that could have been much worse.
A fifth-inning triple off the bat of John Jaso paired with one of Kolten Wong’s two errors in the game upped Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-0. This play ended Leake’s night, who managed to make it through 4 1/3 innings with a pitch count of 99. David Freese and Starling Marte singled and were brought home by Cervelli’s double, padding the Bucco advantage to four runs.
Unlike his counterpart, Nicasio was still going in the sixth inning. He surrendered his only run of his otherwise fine outing in the sixth, the first home run of Jeremy Hazelbaker’s career.
The Pirates would get that run back in the bottom half of the inning, however, courtesy of Sean Rodrirguez’s double off the left-field wall to plate Jordy Mercer, who walked.
Pittsburgh’s bullpen could handle it from there, combining to toss three scoreless innings and strike out three batters to preserve a 5-1 victory and series sweep.
– With his start in the series finale, which happened to be his 1,381, catcher Yadier Molina set a St. Louis-record for most starts at catcher.
– Matt Bowman, a Rule 5 pick, made his major-league debut for the Cardinals. He pitched two scoreless innings, striking out two batters.
Pirates: The Bucs will travel to Cincinnati, Ohio to take on the Reds in a three-game set that begins on Friday. The two clubs met for an exhibition game on Saturday, April 2, at Victory Field in Indianapolis, Indiana, the home of Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians. The Reds won that game, 13-6. The Pirates will look to tally some early-season wins against the rebuilding Reds.
Cardinals: The Cardinals will head south to Atlanta, Georgia to play the Atlanta Braves this weekend in a three-game affair. The Cardinals and Braves met at Turner Field in the concluding series of the 2015 season, and the Braves won all the three games.