Cardinals' fielding short-circuits rare Pittsburgh chances in decisive game
ST. LOUIS -- On a night when scoring was hard to come by and their only run came on a trio of fluky infield hits, the Pirates met their match. It was singularly in the form of Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, and their fate was handed down partly by way of a couple of poorly placed line drives.
A quiet Pittsburgh offense once again had its volume turned down by Wainwright and the Cards in Wednesday's decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series, a 6-1 loss at Busch Stadium. The Bucs managed eight hits, but it certainly didn't help when two were negated by double plays turned off sharply hit liners.
"Every time we turned around, Wainwright got in the way tonight," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We were able to be -- the at-bats were better, the approach got better, but he kept making pitches. The last two games, they kept us off the plate. We scored two runs in 18 innings, so there is no safety net."
Pittsburgh mustered only one run against Wainwright on Wednesday, and one against a trio of St. Louis rookies Monday, scoring a total of three over three losses in the series. Two of the Pirates' first three baserunners Wednesday were erased by double plays.
Marlon Byrd led off the second with a single to center, but he was doubled up the following at-bat on a Pedro Alvarez liner to Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter.
"That's just baseball, that's all," Byrd said. "You hit the ball, you hope that it falls. When it doesn't [and] they make good plays, you tip your cap and keep trying to go. But Wainwright made good pitches when he needed to. That was the big key."
Pittsburgh didn't have its third baserunner against Wainwright until the sixth, when Clint Barmes singled to lead off the frame. He was erased on a 6-4-3 double play that ended the inning.
But perhaps the final straw was in the eighth, when pinch-hitter Jordy Mercer singled with one out. Leadoff man Starling Marte -- who finished the series 1-for-19 -- lined sharply to Carpenter, who quickly relayed the ball to Matt Adams at first. Umpire Paul Nauert began to raise his arms as if to call Mercer safe, but then clenched and pumped his right fist, calling him out. The inning was over, and the Bucs -- trailing 3-1 at the time -- would not score again.
"I honestly didn't think it was even close, and then when he actually raised his arms to give the safe sign and then pulled them back down and called me out, it was a little mind-blowing at first," Mercer said. "It was a big play right there, and who knows? [Neil Walker's] coming up, and anything can happen."
But Walker was a huge part of the team's offensive struggles all series. The second baseman, 0-for-3 with a walk Wednesday, went 0-for-19 in the five games, with two walks. He and Marte combined to go 1-for-38, with three walks, one run, four total bases and 10 strikeouts.
"I'm going to have a bad taste in my mouth for quite a while from this series," Walker said. "We're not pointing any fingers, but if you are, you can start with me."
Even the little offense the Pirates did muster was meager in fashion. With two outs in the seventh, Justin Morneau grounded to a diving Carpenter, who couldn't make the throw to first in time. Byrd followed and hit a grounder up the middle that shortstop Pete Kozma fielded, but instead of flipping to get Morneau at second, he tried to throw out Byrd at first and was late.
Up came Alvarez, who hit a grounder down the first-base line that hit the bag and skipped over Adams' head. The Bucs' only run of the night came around to score, and Alvarez became the first player in baseball history to drive in a run in each of his first six postseason games.
"I had no idea, but at the end of the day, we were on the losing end," Alvarez said. "That's all that matters is trying to win ballgames, and all that personal stuff doesn't really mean anything."
The Cardinals tacked on three more in the ninth -- two coming on an Adams home run, the second homer that reliever Mark Melancon allowed in the last three games after surrendering just one in the regular season -- that put the game out of reach.
Those insurance runs also ensured that No. 3 hitter Andrew McCutchen would not bat as the tying run in the ninth inning. The NL MVP Award candidate came to the plate Monday representing the winning run in the ninth with a trip to the NL Championship Series on the line. He popped out then and flied out Wednesday, finishing the series 5-for-18.
"Things don't always go your way, so you have to make the most of your opportunity," McCutchen said. "I wish that we had that opportunity a little more, but it's something that didn't happen. ... It could have been a lot of different opportunities and different situations that could have panned out.
"There's nothing you can do. You can't really think of what would have, it's just what did."