ST. LOUIS -- Jedd Gyorko's home run in the eighth inning Saturday that gave the Cardinals the 4-3 win over the Pirates almost didn't happen.
Gyorko took on a 2-2 pitch from Felipe Rivero that was called ball three, an 82-mph slider, according to Statcast™. Both Rivero and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said they thought it was strike three. Gyorko was just elated to stay alive.
"It was a good pitch," Gyorko said. "I probably didn't swing at it because I knew I couldn't hit it, and that's what it comes down to."
Three pitches later, the Cardinals second baseman swung at the ninth pitch of the at-bat, and it landed just over the wall in right field. Gyorko had fouled off five previous pitches from Rivero that were clocked at either 99 or 100 mph, so he knew what to expect by the time the fateful pitch was thrown.
Gyorko's big fly was noteworthy for several reasons. At 100.23 mph, Rivero's pitch to Gyorko was the third-fastest pitch hit for a home run this season. Only Kurt Suzuki, who homered on a 102.37-mph pitch thrown by Aroldis Chapman, and Coco Crisp, who took a 100.35-mph pitch from Matt Bush over the fence, have hit home runs on faster pitches in 2016.
Furthermore, batted balls previously hit with a similar exit velocity (99.76 mph) and launch angle (29 degrees) had turned out to be homers only 44 percent of the time entering Saturday, meaning there was less than a 50/50 chance Gyorko's blast would clear the wall. It was a rather improbable home run, and Gyorko felt like it was the biggest in his career.
The call and subsequent homer helped save the Cardinals' postseason hopes. They sit one game back of the Giants for the second National League Wild Card spot with one game to play. If St. Louis ends the season tied with San Francisco, the one-game tiebreaker to get into the Wild Card Game would be Monday in St. Louis.
"In all honesty, the longer he stayed in the at-bat right there, the more I thought [Gyorko] might get him right there," Cardinals left fielder Brandon Moss said. "That's saying a lot considering that guy has unbelievable stuff, but Jedd was competing with every pitch and he didn't seem off of anything. The longer he stays in that at-bat, the better you feel about it."
The home run was Gyorko's 30th this season, and he is the first Cardinals player to reach that number since Carlos Beltrán in 2012. He has now hit seven more than his previous career high, and he has been motivated by the opportunity to make his first postseason.
"That's what I came over here for," Gyorko said. "When you hear about the Cardinals and the history they have, it's all about the postseason. That's something I want to be a part of obviously. That's what I'm striving for."
Gyorko has 23 home runs since the All-Star break, and 17 of his 30 homers have tied or given the Cards the lead this season. He tends to string them together too, homering in consecutive games eight times this season. His blast Saturday was his 12th this season in the seventh inning or later.
"We needed it from somebody," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Jedd's been so impressive. 30 [homers] without even being in there every single day; not a lot of guys go there. We talk about he and Moss and how dangerous they can be in big situations, fighting off pitches and just staying alive. We've seen that from him a couple times now. We had to have something done. That was right on time."