Edinson Volquez and the Pittsburgh Pirates made separate statements Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Volquez validated the club’s faith in his ability with a strong first start, while the Pirates demonstrated they’re still game to battle their biggest rival.
Behind 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball from Volquez, the Pirates (4-2) edged the Cardinals 2-1 at sunny PNC Park to take the weekend series between the two NL Central opponents. Pittsburgh won Friday’s game 12-2 before St. Louis (3-3) struck back for a 6-2 victory Saturday.
Backup catcher Tony Sanchez drove in the winning run in the seventh with a two-out double against St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright, giving the second-year Pirate five RBIs in the season’s opening week. Pedro Alvarez started the tiebreaking rally with a leadoff walk, his fourth base on balls of the weekend.
The Pirates bullpen trio of Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli sealed the win by getting the final 10 outs. Watson came on in the sixth after Jon Jay tied the game with an RBI triple against Volquez. Watson struck out Matt Adams to escape the jam, then whiffed two more in a perfect seventh.
After a routine eighth by Melancon, Grilli walked Jay to start the ninth, but Matt Holliday hit into a nicely-turned 1-6-3 double play to clean the bases. Grilli retired Adams on a grounder to earn his first save of the year in his second opportunity.
Although the Pittsburgh relief work was good, Volquez was the story of the day. The free-agent signing flashed a sharp breaking ball and firm fastball en route to four strikeouts. Volquez allowed three hits and one walk, a pleasant change from a spring training that saw him struggle to adjust his mechanics under the Pirates’ tutelage.
Wainwright doesn’t need to alter much in his game, as he’s been one of baseball’s best pitchers for several years. He fanned seven Pirates, but doubles by Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker pushed Pittsburgh ahead 1-0 in the fourth.