ST. LOUIS — After the offensive outbursts of the past five days, it was perhaps fitting the Cardinals proved Wednesday they can win however it takes in September.
It took until the fifth inning to pick up their first hit, and they didn’t score until they were down to their last out. That run would win the game and complete a sweep of the Pirates, but it was only able to do so thanks to a suffocating performance from starter Shelby Miller.
“That’s really where this thing starts,” Mike Matheny said. “That’s probably as well as I’ve seen him pitch. How he used his secondary pitches. He knew he had to going into this game, something he’s had trouble with against these guys.”
With Pittsburgh’s Edinson Volquez flummoxing Cardinal hitters, Miller matched him scoreless inning for scoreless inning.
“The biggest thing for us as pitchers is trying to put up zeroes,” the 23-year-old said plainly at his locker.
Miller threw up seven of them, allowing just three hits on his way to striking out five. He finished 21 outs in 102 pitches, using is breaking ball far earlier and more often than in previous match ups with the Bucs.
“That was kind of in the game plan tonight. Yadi told me. ‘we’re going to throw some breaking balls early,’ and we kind of just stuck with it all night,” Miller said. “I felt like we did a good job of mixing it up, Yadi called a great game.”
Molina controlled the tempo throughout, working with Miller to unbalance the Pirates.
“He’s making adjustments,” the Cardinal backstop said of Miller’s use of his hook. “That pitch is huge for him and he’s getting comfortable throwing it for a strike.”
A final test would come in the seventh inning, as the Bucs mounted their first serious challenge all game. Neil Walker led off with a double, quickly moving to third on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Russell Martin.
Miller would walk Ike Davis intentionally, setting the stage for a showdown with Starling Marte. The outfielder had hit .333 against Miller coming into Wednesday with three extra base hits. He had singled already and could break the game’s deadlock with a fly ball.
“Marte has been a guy who has been a tough out for me in the past. With a runner on third and first, that was a big out,” Miller said.
Marte would break his bat on a liner to Kolten Wong, and Jordy Mercer lined to center one hitter later to close out the inning. Miller walked off the field visibly excited, sensing the game’s defining moment may just have gone the Cardinal’s way.
“That was the difference-maker in the ballgame because they were right there and ready to score,” he said.
The tie would hold until Peter Bourjos scored Molina with a walk off single up the middle in the ninth. For Miller it was another efficient start as he continues to rebound from a five inning, five run outing against Miami on August 11.
Each successive start has seen his run total drop, even as the opposing offenses have improved in quality. Though he would not factor in the decision, he avoided a loss to the Pirates; a team that has given him six losses, 1/3 of his career total.