In Monday’s Game 4 of the National League Division Series, the Pittsburgh Pirates were limited to one hit, but they still had a chance to win in the final at-bat.
The drama didn’t translate to victory, however, as the St. Louis Cardinals forced a deciding fifth game with a taut 2-1 victory at PNC Park.
Backed up by Matt Holliday’s two-run homer, rookie Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha was brilliant in his first postseason start. The 22-year-old, who missed a no-hitter by one out in his final regular-season appearance, carried a perfect game into the sixth inning and didn’t allow a hit until the eighth, when Pedro Alvarez drilled a solo home run with one out.
The long shot into the right-center field seats, Alvarez’ third of the series, pulled the Pirates within a run and may have played a factor in the walk Wacha issued to Russell Martin, who was next up. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny went to Carlos Martinez to relieve Wacha, but Pittsburgh pinch-runner Josh Harrison was caught stealing to neutralize the threat.
In the ninth, Neil Walker drew a two-out base on balls from the hard-throwing Trevor Rosenthal. That gave NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen a chance to tie or win the game with one swing, but he popped out to center on a 3-1 heater to arrange a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday night in St. Louis.
Despite the late drama, Game 4 was all about Wacha. The threat of one of the best changeups in MLB kept the Pirates honest against his mid-90s fastball, which he located mostly on the corners until tiring late. Wacha threw 96 pitches – 60 for strikes – and earned most of his nine strikeouts by getting ahead in the count. The closest the Pirates came to a hit until Alvarez went deep was when Walker flied out to deep left field in the seventh.
By then it was 2-0 Cardinals on Holliday’s wind-aided shot in the sixth against Pirates starter Charlie Morton. Carlos Beltran walked on four pitches to lead off the frame, then Holliday lifted a low sinker that carried into the bullpens in left-center field, getting a rise out of the St. Louis dugout.
For a while, it seemed as if the game would remain scoreless deep into the evening, as Morton nearly matched Wacha pitch-for-pitch through the first five innings. Morton showed good command of his curveball right away, mixing in his two-seam fastball to induce an 11-to-2 groundball to flyball ratio, typical for “Ground Chuck.”
Holliday’s first-inning single was the only hit against Morton until the fifth, when Pete Kozma bounced a hit past shortstop Clint Barmes to give the Cardinals runners on first and second with one out. Wacha bunted them over, but Morton fanned Matt Carpenter for the second time in the game to keep the visitors off the board.
The tension rose and fell throughout the afternoon as the sun dropped in the sky, casting shadows over the diamond in the late innings. For the third straight game, black-clad Pirates fans filled PNC Park in numbers previously unseen in the 13-year history of the building.
The announced attendance for Monday was 40,493, but the energy couldn’t prevent the Pirates from losing their first playoff game in three tries this October. Now Pittsburgh will have to win on the road if it hopes to keep the long summer on the North Shore going.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle announced after the game that 23-year-old rookie righty Gerrit Cole would get the Game 5 start Wednesday night at Busch Stadium. St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright will also pitch for the second time in the series, with first pitch scheduled for 8:07 p.m. Eastern time.