In the first game of the most important baseball series this town has witnessed in 23 years, Pittsburgh got a heavy dose -- make that overdose -- of high-stakes, high-drama, mistake-riddled, boneheaded, opportunity-wasted baseball.
The Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals went 14 innings last night and this morning at Busch Stadium. Both teams had chances to win, the Cardinals finally did, 4-3, to cut the Pirates lead in the National League Central Division to two games.
The good, the bad and the ugly of this game, and inverse order because the ugly far outweighed the good.
* In a play that stirred memories of the famous ``can of corn’’ that Matty Alou dropped in a pennant race in 1970, Starling Marte failed to catch a routine fly ball off the bat of Doug Descalso with one out in the ninth and it went for a two-base error. Descalso scored on a two-out single by Allen Craig to send the game to extra innings. Marte had a chance to make amends in the field in the 14th as Jon Jay raced for home from second on a two-out single by Adron Chambers. The throw was strong but slightly up the right-field line and just enough to give Jay room to score. It, too, brought to mind another infamous play in Pirates history.
* In the 13th inning, Andrew McCutchen singled, went to second on a wild pitch and to third on an infield hit by Pedro Alvarez. On Russell Martin’s bouncer toward the hole, third baseman Descalso dove for the ball as shortstop Pete Kozma made the play. There was no one to hold McCutchen, who, inexplicably did not go on contact, close to the bag. But he stood transfixed with a 10-foot lead. It could have been 25 if he had been thinking. With his speed and with Clint Barmes and Josh Harrison due up, he should have tried to score. But he stood observing instead of running. St. Louis walked Barmes and Harrison bounced into a 5-3 double play.
* The much-awaited MLB debut of Andrew Lambo was not exactly scintillating. Lambo grounded out to first in his first two at bats and struck out in his third. Those wondering about his defensive ability got a message from the manager. In the seventh with the Pirates leading, 3-2, Hurdle pinch-hit Gaby Sanchez for starter Charlie Morton, and kept Sanchez in the game for defense. But he didn’t remove first baseman Garrett Jones from the game. Instead he moved Jones to right field, where he is adequate, at best, and pulled Lambo.
* With an insurance run a priority in the eighth with the Pirates ahead by a run, Walker led off with a double against reliever Trevor Rosenthal. But McCutchen, Alvarez and Martin struck out.
* In what was nothing less than an MVP moment, in the first inning, McCutchen hit a two-run homer of St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright. Talk about setting the tone for a series. It not only gave the Pirates a lead, it set the Cardinals, primed for the series, back on their heels and stunned the crowd at Busch Stadium.
* Clint Hurdle is making no attempt to show the regard with which he holds Jordy Mercer and Mercer responded with a home run in the second inning that going into the ninth looked to be the margin of victory. Long disrespected by Pirates management, Mercer is now being embraced. The Pirates won’t be shortstop shopping this winter, as once might have been expected. Hurdle has consistently gone with Mercer in recent weeks and did so tonight although Barmes was 7-for-19 with three doubles and a home run in his career against Wainwright.
* Defensive positioning: When pinch-hitter Matt Adams lined a bullet to right field with two out in the eighth and a runner on third, it looked a like a tie game. But, no, there was Walker, playing in short right field, leaping and snaring the bullet. If Walker were in his conventional position, he would have had no chance to make the play.