There is no way around it: The Cardinals needed a win. And that’s what they got in the first game of Friday’s seven-inning doubleheader against the Pirates.
After being held to two hits in their series-opening loss on Thursday and seeing Dakota Hudson, one of their most reliable starters this season, go on the injured list Friday afternoon with a right forearm strain, the Cardinals turned around with a 6-5 win in Game 1 of the twin bill at PNC Park.
The Cardinals (23-24) overcame four errors -- including a catcher’s interference with the bases loaded -- and a late rally from the Pirates to stay in the National League playoff race, entering a tie with the Reds for second place in the NL Central before Friday night’s slate of games began around the league.
“We told ourselves on this road trip we have our destiny in our hands,” reliever Ryan Helsley said. “How we play is where we’re going to be. We can control what we can control, and come out here and play every day.”
Helsley came in with one out in the seventh inning and got the second out. A battle with Kevin Newman was extended as the umpires reviewed the count to determine if Helsley had thrown ball four. More than two minutes later, they signaled for Newman to take first base.
Erik González then hit a grounder to Paul DeJong, who made his second error of the game with a low throw to first base. Pinch-hitter Josh Bell walked to load the bases, but Helsley got catcher John Ryan Murphy to fly out to left fielder Tyler O'Neill. It secured Helsley’s first career save -- and a sigh of relief from the Cardinals.
“It was just trusting my stuff,” Helsley said. “It’s the hardest thing to do sometimes is trusting your stuff. Going after guys and attacking them, especially in that situation. You can’t pitch around guys, you have to go right at them with the game on the line in the bottom of the inning like that.”
The Cardinals’ pitching and defense have been superb this season, often supporting the team when the offense came up short. Flipping the script Friday, the lineup carried the Cards. Kolten Wong’s first home run of the year was a leadoff shot off the right-field foul pole, putting St. Louis up early. After starter Carlos Martínez gave up the lead, O’Neill got it right back with a two-run shot in the second inning, his seventh of the year. The Cards extended their lead with two runs in the third and another in the fourth.
Two of the four errors the Cardinals committed in Game 1 led to three runs in the fourth, allowing the Pirates to close the gap and make the game closer than St. Louis wanted. Martínez saw five runs score in his 3 2/3 innings, but only one was earned against the right-hander. He loaded the bases with three walks in the first, had one score on Yadier Molina’s second catcher’s interference in a week (and only the fourth of his career) and had the second score on a sacrifice fly.
“I believe in my four-seamer, so I used that more in the game after that and it helped me a lot,” Martínez said. “Sometimes that’ll happen, but you have to control the ball. It didn’t make me lose my focus. I kept going to work, kept making adjustments to help the team.”
Martínez adjusted his mechanics and game plan to settle down after that. He got the Cardinals into the fourth inning -- which they needed after the contest turned into a bullpen game. Génesis Cabrera escaped the fourth inning with a strikeout, and Alex Reyes got José Osuna to fly out to right field in the fifth inning with runners on the corners. Reyes battled to get out of the sixth unscathed, too, with a 10-pitch at-bat to Pirates rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes and an eight-pitch at-bat to Colin Moran.
Reyes has increasingly become one of the Cardinals’ highest-leverage relievers this season, and Friday's twin-bill opener was no different.
“As a player, you want to be in those tough situations. And especially as a pitcher, it goes back to being a little kid and you act like it’s the ninth inning, 3-2, bases loaded,” Reyes said. “I always like being in those kinds of spots, and that’s not going to change. Whenever my name is called, whether it’s a one-run game, tie game, three-run lead, five-run lead, it really doesn’t matter to me. It’s giving my team an opportunity to win.”