With Major League Baseball’s spotlight shining a heavy glow on PNC Park this weekend, the race for first place in the National League Central Division slipped another game further for the Pirates (51-47), who fell 9-1 to the St. Louis Cardinals (53-47) in front of a sellout crowd of 39,102 Saturday night.
The Pirates lost their first N.L. Central division series since getting swept by Milwaukee on May 13-15.
Starter Kevin Correia was shelled for a season-high seven runs—all of them earned—on eight hits in just 4.2 innings pitched. Throwing 94 pitches, Correia gave up two home runs, including a three-run blast to center field by right fielder Lance Berkman in the fifth inning, which gave St. Louis a 6-1 lead.
“He was trying to find his rhythm from the beginning,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. “He was challenged a little bit in the second. They scrapped, got a few guys on base, and Berkman had a big swing of the bat. We wanted to get him to end the 5th (inning) on a positive note. I just think that ball (pitched to Berkman) was a little bit elevated and not where we wanted it.”
Playing with a makeshift lineup that included Chase d’Arnaud in the leadoff spot, and Friday call-up Steve Pearce batting 5th, the Pirates were able to capture just one run on eight hits thanks to Cardinals pitcher Jaimie Garcia, who pitched a solid 7.1 innings.
“He mixed up his pitches pretty well, and he was around the strike zone. He threw some fastballs for strikes, a changeup, curveball. I didn’t see that cutter (slider), but apparently that was working pretty well too,” said Brandon Wood of Garcia.
Pearce, who made his first appearance since May 29th (injured- strained right calf), went 1 for 4 with a single.
Due to a left thumb contusion suffered by outfielder Alex Presley—who was originally penciled in Saturday’s lineup—third baseman d’Arnaud (.227) took over leadoff responsibilities, and finished as one of two Pirates with multi-hit games, going 2 for 4 with two singles, and a stolen base in the 1st inning.
Diaz (.281) marked the other two-hit batter for Pittsburgh, tallying up a single and a double to right field in the 2nd inning, in which the left fielder scored the only Pirate run thanks to a Brandon Wood single up the middle on the very next at-bat.
“It was a fastball, middle- middle,” said Wood about the pitch he connected on to score the only RBI in the game for the Pirates. “I thought it might come off-speed, but I just wanted to stay in the middle, and at worst, hit a groundball. I just wanted to get that runner in.”
The floodgates held for Pittsburgh until the 5th inning, when a Skip Schumaker (2 for 5) leadoff single off of Correia started a rally that led to two more singled, including an Albert Pujols (1 for 4) rip to right field that gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. Shortly after a Matt Holliday (1 for 4) strikeout, Berkman dialed long distance off of a Correia cutter fastball; and shortly after, Yadier Molina (2 for 4) followed suite on a solo shot to the left field porch.
“It’s just such a tough lineup that, with those three guys in the lineup in a row like that, you have to be real efficient,” said Correia about pitching against the Cardinals. “I think I was doing a pretty good job until the 5th, and then a couple of pitches, and they started really hitting me around.”
“I think it was just a matter of them beating me. I felt pretty good out there,” he continued. “I don’t feel like I was giving them a lot of easy pitches to hit. They are just a lot of good hitters, and you have to be perfect, and I just wasn’t quite good enough.”
The Pirates would tack on just four more hits after the 5th inning explosion by St. Louis, who also punched in a pair of runs off of Jose Veras.
Tony Watson represented the bullpen with three scoreless innings between the 4th and 7th inning.
The Pirates are now 5-5 in their last 10 games, and have lost three-straight, which is a team-worst since losing four-straight between June 17-20.
Andrew McCutchen finished the game going 0 for 3 with one walk, while Neil Walker went 1 for 4 with a double. Between the two sluggers, five men were left on base. Ronny Cedeno, who batted in 2nd in his second game since being called up from Indianapolis on Friday, contributed to 3 men left on base, going 0 for 4 on the night.
Winning Pitcher: Jaimie Garcia, 7.1 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO, 3.01 ERA (93 pitches- 61 strikes)
Losing Pitcher: Kevin Correia, 4.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO, 2 HR, 4.38 ERA (94 pitches- 59 strikes).
WOOD AT FIRST
With several unusual shifts in the Pirates’ lineup and defensive positioning Saturday night, none was as more eyebrow-raising then Brandon Wood (3B/SS) playing his first game as a Pittsburgh Pirate at first base. Wood (.211), who went 1 for 3, knocking in the only RBI for the Pirates, made several nice plays at the opposite corner, including a diving stab in the first inning, robbing Schumaker of a base hit.
“I felt pretty good,” said Wood about his first 1st base experience. “I just talked to (St. Louis’s) first base coach and I said if you see me do something stupid then grab me and tell me to go somewhere else. Because in Anaheim I held on a runner on first base with a guy on second.”
NEW JACK CITY
The Cardinals have ripped the Pirates’ pitching staff for 5 home runs in the last two games. Albert Pujols, David Freese, Lance Berkman and Yadier Molina, who cranked two long-balls in consecutive nights, all contributed.
The Pirates, as a team, are at a lowly 62 home runs this year, just in front of Seattle (61) and Minnesota (60).
39,102 was the total paid attendance at PNC Park Saturday night. The tally marked the 12th sellout of the season, which is the highest since the park opened up in 2001.
Leftfielder Alex Presley (left thumb contusion) was a late-scratch from Saturday’s game. Presley stated that he injured his thumb in Friday’s game against the Cardinals after he jammed his thumb. It is not known if Presley will have an x-ray on his thumb.
The Pirates will look to avoid the three-game sweep when they host the Cardinals Sunday afternoon at 1:35. Charlie Morton (8-5, 3.62) is expected to go for the Pirates, while right-hander Kyle Lohse (8-7, 3.45 ERA) takes the mound for St. Louis.