All season long, the Cardinals have insisted that when they can get into an opponent’s bullpen, especially one that’s struggling, the game has the potential to reset.
In no game was that truer than Saturday’s matchup with the Pirates.
After being no-hit through six innings, the Cardinals scored five runs in the seventh inning to lead their 5-4 win over the Pirates at PNC Park.
The best thing that happened to the Cardinals was Mitch Keller’s pitch count. The Pirates' right-hander made his second start since coming off the injured list after a left oblique strain, so he was limited to around 80 pitches. He got through six innings with 84 pitches, all without allowing a hit. Keller walked two and hit one batter, and the Cardinals stranded all three.
After the sixth, Pirates manager Derek Shelton walked over to Keller in the dugout and shook his hand. His night was done, and the Pirates would turn a four-run lead over to their bullpen.
That’s when the Cardinals’ offense showed life.
“You’re down 4-0 and getting no-hit after six, it’s not the most ideal condition,” manager Mike Shildt said. “But this group thrives and deals with adverse conditions and not-ideal conditions and just keeps going. ... We got into the seventh, stayed mentally ready to take our walks, a couple of pitches helped us.
“Just says a lot about the group’s will to fight and scratch and claw and just get it done. I liked the fact that we stayed with it and took good at-bats and put up a five-spot.”
Pirates reliever Geoff Hartlieb walked two and hit Yadier Molina -- who later left the game with a left wrist contusion -- to load the bases. Then Tyler O’Neill ripped a two-run double off lefty Sam Howard down the right-field line for the Cardinals’ first hit and runs of the night.
“We got a couple of guys on base earlier in the game, but when they got into their ‘pen and I came up with a couple of guys on there, I really felt like I had to do my job and get it in play and put it hard somewhere,” O’Neill said. “I got a pitch I was able to do that with.”
Dylan Carlson’s sacrifice fly and singles from Kolten Wong and Tommy Edman gave the Cards the lead. The three hits in the inning were the only three hits the Cardinals had all game. Keller sped through the Cards’ lineup twice by the end of the fifth inning, and the St. Louis hitters looked ill-equipped to adjust to Keller’s elevated fastball and biting slider. It was the second time this series the Cardinals have been quieted by a Pirates starter; Steven Brault held them to two hits on Thursday in his complete game.
“[Keller] had good stuff tonight,” O’Neill said. “Luckily, we were able to get into the ‘pen.”
Three Cardinals relievers -- Jake Woodford (first MLB win), Ryan Helsley and Génesis Cabrera -- made sure the three hits were all the Cardinals would need. They allowed just two Pirates baserunners in 3 2/3 innings after lefty starter Kwang Hyun Kim allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings. Kim entered Saturday having pitched four straight games of five or more innings with no earned runs, but Pirates rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes broke that streak with a first-inning homer.
Kim was wearing a protective liner in his cap for the first time Saturday and said that he was prescribed to wear it by doctors. He acknowledged it was uncomfortable and something he needed to work with on his delivery.
“Early in the game I had some mistake pitches,” Kim said through interpreter Craig Choi. “Even though that happened, I tried to be positive. But overall today wasn’t good for me. Fortunately, the team won and that’s what really matters.”
Kim is right: The win helped the Cardinals gain some traction in the playoff race. With the Reds’ loss on Saturday night, St. Louis is now in sole possession of second place in the National League Central, one game ahead of the Reds and the Brewers. With the expanded postseason in 2020, finishing second means a guaranteed postseason berth. A win over the Pirates on Sunday would push the Cardinals closer to October.
“We know where we’re at,” O’Neill said. “We know it’s time to make some noise. All the boys are fighting out here. It’s been a long couple of weeks, but we’re all doing it together. We’re doing our best to keep our bodies in the best shape we can and feel as good as we can. We’re all scrapping together. That’s the mentality we’re taking every day.”