ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is an avid chess player. Managing a baseball game is a lot like chess. Sometimes the moves work. Sometimes they don't.Matheny pulled out every move he had against Pittsburgh on Thursday night at Busch Stadium, and he finally got his checkmate in a
ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is an avid chess player. Managing a baseball game is a lot like chess. Sometimes the moves work. Sometimes they don't.
Matheny pulled out every move he had against Pittsburgh on Thursday night at Busch Stadium, and he finally got his checkmate in a 10-8 victory over the Pirates thanks to a three-run walk-off home run by Yairo Munoz, which capped a five-run rally in the bottom of the ninth.
"When I stepped up to the plate, I said, 'This is my moment,'" Munoz said through an interpreter. "I just want to narrow the strike zone to a pitch I can handle, I can hit it to the outfield so I can bring in the runner from third base."
It was the second Major League home run for Munoz, who is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Cardinals' No. 8 prospect.
"To come through against a guy that's been doing a real nice job at the back end of the bullpen with real good stuff and watch one at-bat after another, guys just hand off the baton. ...[I] realize that three runs is a big ask, but just do your part and somebody will come through and that's obviously a big hit," Matheny said.
Matheny implemented three double switches and used 19 position players as the Cardinals beat the Pirates for the third consecutive time this season.
After starter Jack Flaherty needed 102 pitches to get through five innings, Matheny was aggressive with his bullpen use to try and preserve a 5-4 lead. The Cards' manager used five relievers, only to watch the Pirates push four runs across in the eighth, including a three-run homer by Francisco Cervelli.
The trouble started after Matheny went with Jordan Hicks for a second inning. Hicks, who pitched the Cardinals out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, gave up a leadoff single and an RBI double to Gregory Polanco to tie the game, 5-5. Hicks then walked pinch-hitter Adam Frazier, prompting Matheny to call on Bud Norris to face Cervelli, who drove a 3-2 cutter over the left-field wall.
Matheny felt the aggressiveness was necessary. The double switches allowed Hicks and Norris a chance for extended appearances, while protecting the lineup for a potential late rally.
"It's not something we enjoy doing, but we're going to do it at times to improve defensively," Matheny said. "We're not going to do it just to do it. It's about pitching, and those are situations where we don't have a choice."
All five batters Pirates pitcher Felipe Vazquez faced in the ninth scored. Pinch-hitter Luke Voit, in Matheny's final move, delivered a two-run single right before Munoz ended it, capping a five-RBI night for the Cardinals' shortstop.
"It was a good pitch, he left it a little up," said Voit, who notched his first hit and RBIs of the season. "I did the best I could with it."
Vazquez was pitching in his third straight game.
"He said he was good to go," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's gone three [games in a row] before. It didn't come out the way he wanted it, it didn't come out the way we wanted it."
The rally made a winner of Mike Mayers (2-0), who was recalled from Triple-A Memphis before the game.
William Fowler singled home a pair and Munoz doubled home two more as the Cardinals batted around in a four-run first.
Greg Garcia's single in the fifth scored Fowler, breaking a 4-4 tie. Garcia, who had a pair of singles, has hit safely in nine of his 11 starts this season.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
With the bases loaded and the Cardinals nursing a one-run lead in the seventh, Hicks coaxed Corey Dickerson to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat. It was the seventh double play Hicks has induced this season. He entered the game tied for first among National League relievers in that category.
In May alone, the Cardinals have put 11 players on the disabled list and have made 42 transactions involving 23 different players.
HE SAID IT
"You've got a 4-0 lead, first of all, and then you watch that dwindle away -- and all of a sudden, we bring in the guys who have been so good for us in the 'pen. Jordan does a great job getting us out of a mess in the seventh, and trying to have Bud do the same thing that he's done all season long, and that kicks the wind out of you a little bit. But guys came in confident in the fact that they were just going to go one at a time, figure out ways to put pressure on, see if something could happen. That's a pretty radical shift in emotions, and I think it says a lot about our club." -- Matheny
Video: Must C Comeback: Munoz's walk-off HR caps rally
Right-hander Miles Mikolas (6-0, 2.58 ERA) will take the ball in the second leg of a four-game series against the Pirates and righty Jameson Taillon (2-4, 4.53 ERA) on Friday at 7:15 p.m. CT at Busch Stadium. Mikolas, who took a no-decision in the Cardinals' 6-4 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday, is 4-0 with a 3.13 ERA in seven starts against National League Central opponents this season.
Joe Harris is a contributor to MLB.com based in St. Louis.