By Rick Hummel, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –
PITTSBURGH — The St. Louis Cardinals had a chance to dispose of the annoying Pittsburgh Pirates the last two nights in the National League wild-card race. They didn’t even come close.
After building their edge for a potential playoff spot to three games with a one-run victory on Monday, the Cardinals failed to score even one run the rest of the series.
Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez, masquerading as George Brett, drove in seven runs himself the last two nights, including bashing a three-run homer in a 5-0 Pittsburgh win Wednesday night at PNC Park.
Whatever the Cardinals have been attempting to do with Alvarez hasn’t worked the same as it has for the rest of Major League Baseball, which is holding him to a .225 average this season.
In 15 games against the Cardinals, the former No. 1 pick is hitting .397 with seven of his 26 homers and a whopping 23 of his 70 RBIs.
Meanwhile, big James McDonald and tiny Wandy Rodriguez emulated Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford the last two nights. In 13 innings against the Pirates’ starting twosome, the Cardinals mustered five hits, with former Houston pitcher Rodriguez, making his 21st career start against the Cardinals, holding them to three hits and three walks over six innings.
The Cardinals, who were blanked, 9-0, here on Tuesday, finished the three-game set with no runs in their last 21 innings and only one game ahead of Pittsburgh and 1½ ahead of Los Angeles for what would be the second wild-card berth.
They hadn’t been blanked in successive games since June 1-2 in New York. Hitting coach Mark McGwire, for one, thinks his offense should not be blanked.
McGwire is a longtime student of the game and is baffled by little. But the Cardinals’ offense, which scored 20 runs in the three wins on the trip and two in the three losses, has him stumped.
“This offense should never be shut out,” said McGwire. “I’m all for tipping the hat if the pitcher is dealing. But these last two nights, (the pitchers) were very hittable.
“Getting shut out like that … I’m always troubled by that with this offense because our offense should never be shut out, especially by these two guys (McDonald and Rodriguez).”
In the series, the Cardinals had only one hit that drove in a run with a man in scoring position and that was by pitcher Kyle Lohse.
Manager Mike Matheny is as befuddled as the next man.
“Very frustrating,” said Matheny. “But we’ve had quite a bit of this feast or famine. It’s hard to figure out what we need to do to get it going.
“We know it will but on nights like this, it’s just hard to see it happen. You’ve got to give credit to the other team. But, we’ve said it too many times. This offense shouldn’t give too many people too much credit because we should be able to put a lot of runs up.”
The Cardinals are 3-3 in the first six games of a 10-game trip that will take them to Washington for the last four. Apparently impatient at bat, they have drawn a total of seven walks in the six games, with three of them coming on Wednesday by leadoff man Jon Jay.
One of the few highlights was the three-inning shutout relief job by rookie Trevor Rosenthal, who had joined the team earlier in the day from Class AAA Memphis. Rosenthal finished up for rookie Joe Kelly, who had erratic command in giving up five runs in five innings.
Pittsburgh won the season eight games to seven over the Cardinals, which would give the Pirates a home-field edge if the two tied for a wild-card spot and had to play each other.
The Pirates, playing their biggest home game in 20 years in one columnist’s determination, jumped ahead of Cardinals in the first inning on Garrett Jones’ two-out double, which scored Travis Snider.
The lefthanded-hitting Snider had poked a double past third base with one out. Andrew McCutchen grounded sharply to Kelly, who looked at second where Snider was trapped off the bag, but then whirled and threw to first for the sure out.
Jones doubled off the right-field wall, a hit which may not have scored a runner from first if Kelly had got the out at second.
In the Cardinals’ first, Jay walked and then was forced at second on Matt Holliday’s grounder into the shortstop hole. But Jay made sure he slid into the legs of second baseman Josh Harrison as he sailed past the bag. It was Harrison who knocked Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina out of the lineup the previous night.
That play was one of the few sparks the Cardinals displayed Wednesday.
In the third, Alvarez, who had walloped two homers among four hits, driving in four runs the night before, blasted a 3-1 pitch off Kelly for the home run which established, on this night, an insurmountable lead.
Snider and Jones both walked ahead of the home run and Kelly fell behind Alvarez. With righthanded-hitting Harrison up next, another walk wouldn’t have been the worst thing.
A hanging slider was the worst thing.
“I got that first strike and then, with a guy in scoring position, I tried to go for corners,” said Kelly. “I started nibbling a little bit and I got myself into a hole where I wanted to throw a breaking ball but I didn’t want to leave it down the middle.”