With the exception of Neil Walker‘s Opening Day walk-off home run, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense had been devoid of punch in the first three games of the season.
Alvarez had only one hit, a single, previous to Friday, but last year’s National League home run champion put two over the PNC Park fences against St. Louis starter Shelby Miller. The Bucco third baseman stroked an opposite-field dinger in the second and a 440-foot shot to center in the fourth. Three batters later, Ishikawa followed with his first as a Pirate to make it 3-0.
Second-year Pirates righty Gerrit Cole survived some hard contact early and a two-run blast over the Clemente Wall by Matt Carpenter to go seven innings on a career-high 107 pitches. Cole struck out just three, but he induced 13 groundouts to keep the powerful Cardinals (2-2) at bay.
Starling Marte keyed the Pittsburgh lineup with a team-best three hits out of the leadoff spot, including a triple. Defending NL MVP Andrew McCutchen had a three-bagger himself, a two-RBI gap shot to cap the Pirates’ five-run eighth.
While the eighth broke the game wide open, a strange three-run sixth created some separation. Martin drove in Alvarez with a sharp single up the middle, making it 4-2 Pittsburgh, but the fun was just starting. After Walker singled Martin to third, Gaby Sanchez pinch-hit for Ishikawa against reliever Seth Maness.
Walker took off for second on an apparent hit-and-run, but Sanchez couldn’t reach an outside pitch. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina pump-faked and threw to third to pick off a wandering Martin – except the ball hit Martin in the back and caromed away.
Martin scored on the play, while Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and Molina argued the obstruction was intentional. The umpires disagreed. Sanchez added a ground-ball single to plate Walker and make matters more comfortable at 6-2.
Six combined Pittsburgh runs in the seventh and eighth made the night even more joyous for what remained of 23,342 fans. The game began just past 8 p.m. following a rain delay, but the Bucs made the wait worth it.
The Pirates and Cardinals square off Saturday night on MLB Network. Francisco Liriano gets his second start of the year, looking to follow up his six shutout innings from Opening Day.