In terms of the calendar, the Pittsburgh Pirates have extended their 2013 season by nine days as they prepare for a winner-take-all Game 5 in their National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Nine days isn’t much in the big scheme, not when the regular season lasts six months and is preceded by six weeks of spring training. But when the Pirates take the field Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, it’ll represent much more than the end of an additional week of baseball.
Since September began, the Bucs have built on everything they had accomplished over the past two seasons. They clinched a non-losing season, then a winning one. They locked up a playoff spot, then home-field advantage in the NL wild card game. They advanced past a sudden-death matchup with Cincinnati in front of a frothing home crowd, and tacked on two more wins in the NLDS.
The previous 20 editions of the Pirates hadn’t come close to accomplishing any of those things. Let’s take a moment to appreciate all that’s come before.
Ready? OK, now let’s talk about Game 5. After missing a chance to advance to their first NLCS since 1992, the Pirates will send rookie fireballer Gerrit Cole to the mound to oppose St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright. The winning team will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in a best-of-seven series for the pennant.
Both Cole and Wainwright were dominant in their previous starts, with Wainwright limiting the Pirates to one run over seven innings in Game 1, while Cole responded with six frames of one-run ball in Game 2 as Pittsburgh evened the series. Starting pitching may not be the determining factor in Game 5, but it’s a good bet that it will.
In commemoration of the most important Pirates game since Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, City of Champions presents a Game 5 liveblog. First pitch is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. Eastern time, and I’ll be chronicling every notable moment of the game right here.
Check back later in the day for starting lineups and other pre-game updates.
6:25 p.m. - Pirates manager Clint Hurdle announced that his starting eight will remain as it has been for Pittsburgh’s first five postseason games: LF Starling Marte, 2B Neil Walker, CF Andrew McCutchen, 1B Justin Morneau, RF Marlon Byrd, 3B Pedro Alvarez, C Russell Martin and SS Clint Barmes, with Cole batting ninth.
The Cardinals counter with the following nine: 2B Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran RF, Matt Holliday LF, Matt Adams 1B, Yadier Molina C, Jon Jay CF, David Freese 3B, Pete Kozma SS and Wainwright.
8:03 – The TBS pregame show wrapped up, and studio host Keith Olbermann picked backup catcher John Buck to get a key late hit for the Pirates. So crazy, it makes sense. Also, should I be nervous all the analysts called for Cole and the Bucs to advance?
8:16 – Pirates get some good hacks against Wainwright, who left some fastballs up in the zone, but come up empty in the top of the first. Marte and McCutchen strike out on curveballs. It’s Cole’s turn.
8:24 - And Cole painted the corners with 98-mph heat, turning away the Cardinals in order. Yeah, he’s ready for the stage. This should be fun.
8:30 – That was frustrating. The Pirates hit three line drives, but bad luck turns the top of the second into a missed opportunity. Byrd lined a single up the middle, but he was erased when Alvarez’ rifle shot was snagged and turned into a double play by second baseman Carpenter, who was shifted well into the hole. Martin flew out sharply to center after that.
8:44 - David Freese, you know, the guy who hasn’t done jack since the 2011 World Series, drills a high curveball from Cole over the left field wall for a two-run homer in the bottom of the second. Cole had gotten the first two outs in routine fashion, but Jay drew a full-count walk to start the mini-rally. Cardinals up 2-0, Bucs to the bat rack.
8:56 - Will a #MartePartay get the Pirates going? The Bucco left fielder makes the defensive play of the series, diving to snare Carpenter’s sinking flare down the line, saving a sure triple – if not more. Still 2-0 after three, but maybe that turns Pittsburgh’s luck.
9:04 - Suddenly, somehow, it’s the Pete Kozma Show. He ranges across the second base bag from his shortstop position to snatch a hit away from Walker to lead off the fourth. After Cutch’s groundout to third, Kozma ranges into the hole to gun down Morneau’s bid for an infield single. Guess the luck’s still on St. Louis’ side.
9:18 - Time to exhale! The Cardinals end up with runners at second and third with one out after an Alvarez throwing error, but they do not score. Jay grounds out to Walker, who was in on the grass, and the Pittsburgh Kid throws home to get Adams. Then a nasty 96-mph two-seam fastball gets Freese staring for strike three. Big fist pump from Cole and the Bucs escape.
9:32 - We may have just seen Cole’s last inning of his rookie season. He navigates the bottom of the fifth without a batter reaching and his spot in the lineup is due in the top of the sixth. He’s allowed only three hits through five innings, but Hurdle may have to gamble with the season on the line.
9:41 - The frustration continues. Barmes reaches on a solid single to left after a protracted at-bat, but pinch-hitter Garrett Jones flies out to right, then Marte bounces to Kozma for an easy double play. Pirates have nine outs left to get two runs, at least.
9:55 - Make it three runs as Jay dribbles a chintzy RBI single up the middle to score Holliday, who also reached on a seeing-eye bouncer against Justin Wilson. Can you sense the bitterness? Vin Mazzaro whiffs Freese to get the Bucs out of the jam, but it’s 3-0 St. Louis after six.
10:10 – Well, that weird, but the Pirates get a run. An inning that looked doomed with two quick outs turns into an improbable rally, as back-to-back infield singles by Morneau and Byrd (you read that correctly) set up Pedro as the potential tying run. Alvarez doesn’t launch one, but his bounding ball hits first base and hops over Adams’ head. Morneau comes around on a play at the plate, and it’s 3-1. However, Martin swings at the first pitch and grounds to Kozma to end the inning. Kozma previously had fallen asleep on Byrd’s dribbler that should’ve been an easy fielder’s choice at second.
10:25 - For a team that’s supposedly “been there before,” the Cardinals sure are celebrating every out like it’s Game 7 of the World Series. After pinch-hitter Jordy Mercer looped in a single against Wainwright, Marte sent a soft liner to Carpenter that he turned into a dubious double play. Mercer appeared to beat the throw to first, but umpire Paul Nauert called him out. Middle of the eighth, 3-1 Cardinals.
10:43 - Adams goes deep off the previously unhittable Mark Melancon. It’s a two-run shot. Cardinals add another run on a Kozma infield single. All blurring together. Knew I would take it hard, and I am.
11:01 – Top of the ninth: Walker grounds out, going 0 for the series, then McCutchen flies out to deep center. Morneau and Byrd fend off extinction with back-to-back singles, but Wainwright strikes out Alvarez on three straight curveballs, then the Cardinals celebrate like they won it all. Weird.
Great season for the Pirates obviously, but tonight was brutal. Bucs lined into two double plays and couldn’t catch a break outside of the seventh inning, which led to just a single run. Wasn’t enough, Cardinals win 6-1 and take the series three games to two.