PITTSBURGH — Baseball comes down to adjustments and counter adjustments. Attack, adapt, survive. Tuesday this was embodied by a late-game managerial chess match between Clint Hurdle and Mike Matheny that would ultimately determine the game.
It came down to a crucial matchup in the eighth inning.
With two out and two on, Clint Hurdle tapped Ike Davis to pinch hit with the game tied 2-2 with Seth Maness on the mound. Davis hits from the left side and had two pinch hit homers coming into the night.
Lefty Randy Choate was up in the bullpen, having held Davis hitless in three career match ups.
Couple that with the fact Davis is hitting .100 against southpaws in 2014 and all signs pointed to a pitcher swap.
A.J. Pierzynski walked to the mound to buy time, sauntered back and brushed the dirt with his feet, and Mike Matheny came to the top step of the dugout with his line up card in hand.
That’s as far as he got, instead waving to Pierzynski to go ahead. It was a counter move to Hurdle’s thrust.
“Any time we bring Randy in, in my opinion in a game-changing situation, we have to be extremely confident that that lefty is going to stay in there,” Matheny said. “I’ve watched Clint too many times. I know exactly what he’s going to do in those situations typically.”
The Cardinal skipper bet Hurdle would pull Davis for one of his two right handed hitters on the bench if Choate came out of the pen. That would force Matheny to choose between the 38-year-old facing a righty (they’re hitting .354 against him) or bringing in another arm from the bullpen.
The Cardinals had already used Sam Freeman and Seth Maness, and Matheny preferrs to use Trevor Rosenthal and Pat Neshek in save and hold situations, respectively. That left Carlos Martinez as the only right-handed option in a game that at that point had no clear end in sight.
He opted to stay with Maness.
“I trust Seth to get a guy out there more so than Randy having to come in and watch a right hander face him and put him against the wall,” he said. ”The splits do make a difference. With guys confident up there against a left-handed pitcher and Randy’s splits not so good against a righty.”
So Davis faced Maness with the game on the line.
“We had another talk today and I told him this game switches back and forth and sometimes it happens in an instant,” Hurdle said in his praise of Davis afterward. “All he can do is be ready if it switches back to him.”
It switched back on a 2-2 pitch from the Cardinals’ sinkerballer. Davis turned and put the ball deep into the right center stands, giving the Pirates a 5-2 lead with only three outs left for the Cardinals.
They would come up short, unable to come back twice in one game to secure a series win.
For the second straight night the offense outlasted the Pittsburgh starter, emerging from under the thumb to strike against the bullpen.
Gerrit Cole went six plus innings, striking out nine and allowing one hit until the seventh.
“With the extra day off, we felt Gerrit could go 115 pitches,” Hurdle said after the game. “So we ran him out there in the seventh but he gave up two hits so we went and got him. He couldn’t get the back door breaking ball to come all the way back over the plate so he threw a few more fastballs. But he used all his pitches and had poise, rhythm, control and pace.”
St. Louis would scrape two across that inning to tie the game, the second RBI coming from pinch hitter Randal Grichuk. The bats would fall just short of a lead, instead keeping the game knotted until the fateful eighth inning matchup.
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Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez both left the game with injuries.
The center fielder exited with left rib discomfort, as he’s still on the mend from a fractured rib. Alvarez was said to have a left foot sprain.