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3 key moments that led to Cardinals defeat

Wainwright tosses 7 innings of 1-run ball after allowing leadoff HR
@LangoschMLB
May 11, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Baseball can be a fickle game, as the Cardinals were reminded of on Friday. One night after pummeling the Pirates for a season-high 17 runs, the club squandered a plethora of offensive opportunities while falling, 2-1, to their National League Central foe at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals,

ST. LOUIS -- Baseball can be a fickle game, as the Cardinals were reminded of on Friday. One night after pummeling the Pirates for a season-high 17 runs, the club squandered a plethora of offensive opportunities while falling, 2-1, to their National League Central foe at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals, who tallied 11 hits with runners in scoring position in the series opener, finished Friday night 1-for-9 in such spots. Three different innings ended with a runner left stranded at third base, and St. Louis stranded 10 baserunners in all.

Box score

“It’s funny how that usually happens,” second baseman Kolten Wong said in reference to the contrasting performances to start the series. “But hats off to [Pirates starter] Trevor [Williams]. He pitched a really good game. We put together some hits. We just couldn’t drive them in.”

Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright allowed a leadoff home run to Adam Frazier but settled in to stymie the Pirates for seven strong innings. He allowed five hits and no walks while striking out eight.

That the Cardinals and Pirates found themselves entwined in a close game was hardly a surprise. Since 2013, nearly half (55) of the 118 games between these two clubs has been decided by two runs or fewer.

Such tightly contested affairs, of course, enhance the importance of specific moments. Here’s a look at three from Friday within the context of win expectancy. These represent the only times the Cardinals’ win expectancy, according to Fangraphs, nudged north of 50 percent. Each then became an opportunity missed.

Cards gifted extra bases with pair of errors
Inning: Bottom of the fourth
Win expectancy: 50.9 percent

Having already stranded five runners through the first three innings, the Cardinals looked poised to capitalize after the Pirates' defense fumbled back-to-back plays. But first, there was a decision to make. Let Wainwright swing away with runners on the corners and one out, or have him lay down a bunt?

Cardinals managerMike Shildt chose the latter, knowing that it would at least reduce the chances of a double play and thus extend the inning to ensure Matt Carpenter got an at-bat.

“It’s a version of a safety squeeze,” Shildt said. “If he gets it down and gets it away from the pitcher a little bit, Dexter [Fowler] has a chance to score. The other scenario is what happened. We have a chance to advance the runner and have [runners at] second and third with the go-ahead run a base hit away with Carp up.”

Wainwright’s bunt wasn’t placed in a spot that gave Fowler a chance to score, and Williams subsequently worked out of the jam by striking out Carpenter, who went 0-for-5 on the night.

“I told Shildty the only thing I disagreed with him all day was him not letting me swing,” Wainwright said. “But we’ve got two of the best hitters coming up behind me, so get them in scoring position.”

DeJong beats the shift
Inning: Bottom of the seventh
Win expectancy: 57.3 percent

It took until the seventh for the Cardinals to tally their first hit with a runner in scoring position, and an unlikely hit it would be. Finding a hole opened by the Pirates’ defensive shift, Paul DeJong turned what was the softest ball put in play all night (58.5 mph) into the most productive.

With second baseman Adam Frazier playing up the middle, a ball that would have been right at him had he been in a more traditional place would have resulted in an inning-ending out. That’s reflected in the fact that it had a .090 xBA, according to Statcast.

“If we lost that game, we would hate losing it that way,” Williams said. “If we’re going to lose games, we’d rather get crushed and beaten around.”

The run pulled the Cardinals even for the first time since Wainwright’s sixth pitch of the night. Williams rebounded to retire Marcell Ozuna.

Molina moves tying run to third
Inning: Bottom of the eighth
Win expectancy: 63.4 percent

Though the Pirates had just taken back the lead in the top half of the inning against reliever Andrew Miller, the Cardinals’ win expectancy peaked when they advanced runners to first and third with no out against reliever Kyle Crick in the bottom part of the frame.

Fowler had the first opportunity to push home the tying run. Crick hoped to get Fowler to pop up. He did even better by notching a strikeout.

“It became a strikeout when we got to two strikes,” Crick said afterward. “I was trying to pop him up, going up in the zone, but as soon as we got to two strikes and [catcher Francisco Cervelli] put the slider down, I was trying to throw one in the zone.”

Crick then induced a double play off the bat of Wong to extinguish the Cardinals’ final rally.

“Kolten hits the ball a little more one way or the other, [it’s a different outcome],” Shildt said. “But that’s the game. He didn’t.”

Jenifer Langosch is a senior content manager at MLB.com. She previously covered the Pirates (2007-11) and Cardinals (2012-19). Follow her on Twitter.