By Joe Strauss, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –
PITTSBURGH — Safe to say Friday night did not open as planned for Lance Lynn — or Skip Schumaker.
It ended just fine.
On the second pitch of his third start, Lynn watched Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Alex Presley smoke his first strike to center field at PNC Park. Fresh off a four-game rehab assignment at Class AAA Memphis, Schumaker retreated, leaped, and fell heavily to the warning track as the ball rebounded toward the infield.
Presley took a lap and scored standing; Schumaker remained doubled over.
The play took Schumaker out of the game. It also ended the Pirates’ offense for the evening.
Offering another compelling installment, Lynn (3-0) provided seven strong innings to allow the Cardinals to rally for a 4-1 win before a crowd of 23,509.
“The first two batters I thought it was going to be a long night: an inside-the-park home run and the next guy gets a hit with (All-Star center fielder Andrew) McCutchen coming up,” recalled Lynn, who allowed only two hits the rest of the way.
The Cardinals evened the game thanks to a second-inning unearned run that began with Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton failing to step on first base.
They led when right fielder Carlos Beltran dropped a two-out single to score Lynn, who began the fifth inning with a single.
The Cardinals restored their league-best run differential to plus-34. While surfing on their offense, the Cardinals have allowed one run in six of their last seven wins. Lynn’s four career wins have come against four NL Central rivals. The Cardinals also played error-free for the 10th time in 14 games.
“We’re taking advantage of what they’re giving us and at the same time we’re getting great effort from our starting pitching,” said Beltran, who jacked his average to .347 with a .448 on-base percentage. “They’re giving us opportunities to score — enough — to win games.”
The Cardinals put the game out of reach in the ninth inning with a combination of power and inept Pirates defense. Second baseman Daniel Descalso, who had fouled a pitch off his mouth and nose during his first at-bat, drove his first home run to lead off the ninth inning. Pinch-hitter Shane Robinson reached on the Pirates’ fourth error and immediately scored on shortstop Rafael Furcal’s double into the left-field corner.
What the night meant to Schumaker remains unclear. The Cardinals announced he was removed for only precautionary reasons after having the wind knocked out of him.
Schumaker attempted several throws to left fielder Matt Holliday before walking slowly to the visitors’ dugout.
“He hit it with everything he had,” Beltran said. “Hopefully, he’s fine. He’s a strong man.”
“Nobody wants to come out of a game like that. And nobody wants to pull somebody out of a game,’ manager Mike Matheny said. “All I could think about was it being a little more tender, not being able to localize it, and with one big swing being where we were in spring training all over again. I’m not going to let that happen.”
Schumaker spoke haltingly when questioned about his condition. He admitted that the collision “rattled” the same region affected by last month’s strained oblique.
“It wasn’t like I did it a month ago,” he said. “I don’t anticipate it feeling any worse than it did earlier today.”
Schumaker played Friday three days ahead of schedule. The Cardinals earlier this week thought it a push to activate him before Monday’s opener in Chicago. Circumstances forced a change in organizational thinking.
“I told them I could come up and go,” he said. “If I felt like I would hurt the team I wouldn’t be out there. So I didn’t feel like I would hurt the team by being out there.”
The Cardinals now carry two center fielders with at least nagging conditions. Jon Jay was available to pinch-run but do little else Friday after crashing into the Busch Stadium wall Thursday afternoon.
In a minor piece of good news, Jay said after Friday’s game, “You can write that I’m able to dress with two arms.” He could not use his left shoulder after Thursday’s incident.
For Lynn, the lockdown extended a run in which he has allowed only 10 hits and three earned runs in 19 innings. Friday’s 84-pitch outing accounted for most of the Pirates’ frustration on a night when they never took an at-bat with a runner in scoring position. Lynn insists he doesn’t know his numbers — a 1.42 ERA and nearly twice as many strikeouts (17) as hits allowed. He does know that a more aggressive pitching style serves him better than the nibbler’s style he attempted in two starts last season.
“I just try to challenge hitters and make them hit my pitch,” he said. “When I was starting before I tried to nit-pick too much, a little too much around the zone and make them chase balls early in the count. Now I’m making them swing early in the count and it’s worked out that I’m getting a lot of early outs.”
“We like what they’re doing and hope they keep doing it,” Matheny said. “We’re trying to keep it simple rather than trying to make too much of it.”
Catcher Yadier Molina, who doubled home the game-tying run in the second inning, threw out a would-be base-stealer in the fourth. The Cardinals erased two other hits on the front end of double plays.
Increasingly viewed as a known commodity rather than a middle-inning riddle, Mitchell Boggs struck out two in a perfect eighth inning before Jason Motte closed for his third save in as many chances.
The win pushed the division-leading Cardinals to 10-4 and left the pop-gun Pirates still searching for their first six-run breakout in a 5-8 start. The Pirates have scored a league-low 27 runs this season.