By the time Ike Davis came to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth, Tuesday night’s game had developed the feel of a doubleheader.
If it had been a twinbill between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park, the home team would’ve won the opener convincingly. Bucs starting pitcher Gerrit Cole didn’t allow a hit through 5 2/3 innings and threw six dominating frames, striking out nine along the way.
However, like Monday’s 3-2 loss to St. Louis, the Pirates (68-64) couldn’t fully capitalize on their early offensive opportunities, so it was just a 2-0 lead when Cole returned to the mound in the top of the seventh. Consecutive hits by Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta chased the burly right-hander, and usually-dependable Tony Watson surrendered two more knocks to tie the score.
Watson recovered to throw a scoreless eighth, but the North Side maintained a gloomy feel. The Pirates couldn’t afford to drop much further back of the second-place Cardinals (71-60) if they hope to catch their NL Central rivals before the end of the season.
As it turned out, they didn’t. One-out singles by Gaby Sanchez and Starling Marte against St. Louis’ Seth Maness set the scene for Davis, who came off the bench with two outs. Davis proceeded to deposit a Maness changeup deep into the right-center field grandstand, a dramatic blow that decided a 5-2 victory.
Davis’ three-run homer, his 10th of the year and third pinch-hit dinger of 2014, gave Mark Melancon an opportunity to close out the Pirates’ fourth win in six games. Melancon ignored a one-one walk to let the crowd of over 25,000 celebrate after a tense evening.
Making his second start following a lengthy back rehab, Cole displayed the form that made him a go-to option for the Pirates as they surged to the playoffs last summer. Cole used a lethal combination of high-90s fastballs, fading changeups and darting breaking balls to befuddle the Cardinals.
Although Cole racked up an elevated pitch count because of some extended St. Louis at-bats, he showed no signs of slowing down through five hitless innings. Kolten Wong‘s two-out double in the sixth ended any thoughts of history, but it didn’t blunt Cole’s overall brilliance.
On the negative side, Andrew McCutchen (rib discomfort) and Pedro Alvarez (sprained foot) were forced to leave the game in the middle innings. McCutchen visibly grimaced after a couple of swings earlier in the game, plus a leaping catch of Matt Carpenter‘s drive to the center-field fence couldn’t have helped his mending rib.
Marte stayed warm with two hits and Clint Barmes cashed in a run with a bases-loaded groundout in his return from a severe groin strain.
The Pirates’ quest to close within 2 1/2 games of the Cardinals will be difficult, as ace Adam Wainwright gets the call for the visitors in the series finale Wednesday afternoon. Jeff Locke opposes in the 12:35 p.m. start.