(BaseballStL) — In their first game without Yadier Molina, the Cardinals ran into a heap of trouble. Looking for a four-game sweep, St. Louis was rolled by Pittsburgh in the series finale.
“It’s a tough night for our club in general,” said Mike Matheny ”We just didn’t look right from the beginning.”
With the game tied 1-1 through four full innings, the Pirates broke out in the fifth for three runs. A leadoff walk began the trouble and a second one an out later put two on. The trouble looked escapable when a fly ball to center made it two outs, but Andrew McCutchen wouldn’t let starter Shelby Miller off the hook.
“[Cruz] wanted to go back inside which is good now that you look back it it. I threw a curveball inside right before that pitch and going inside right there could have looked something like a curveball and he might have taken it or swung up and at it,” Miller said. He explained he preferred going up and away to McCutchen, and went with a fastball high and outside. “I knew I wanted to go up and he just got to it. He’s a great hitter.”
The former MVP singled in a run, and scored one hitter later when a two-RBI double from Neil Walker opened things up to 4-1.
Miller would exit the game at the close of the frame, making it just five innings on 92 pitches; the sixth outing of 15 outs or fewer this season for him. He’s not reached six complete innings in 11 of his 19 starts.
“I think we’ve seen that with Shelby pretty consistently. When things start to fall apart, he’s lost his balance point, his finish is kind of falling all over the place,” Mike Matheny said of the mechanical trouble that seemed to plague his starter. “He came into this season looking to improve on that and be that guy that’s going to go deeper into the game for us. It’s frustrating for him.”
Tyler Lyons came in to keep things close, but the Pirates refused to leave a sweep on the table. After two bad throws from the reliever, two men were on and no one was out.
Matt Carpenter let a pop up bunt from Edinson Volquez drop hoping to get a pair of outs, but when he threw to second no one was there. The bunt coverage the Cardinals ran had no one covering second, and the throw sailed into center field. Jon Jay caught the ball on a bounce and sprinted to beat the runner to second, saving a run and netting an out.
From there, things went bad in a hurry. A walk reloaded the bases and the Pirates were in the verge of blowing the doors off.
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A ground rule double from Josh Harrison and a sac fly by McCutchen were aided by a passed ball to score four Pirates as they brought seven hitters to the plate.
The gap was widened to 8-1, and the Cardinals hadn’t looked strong all night at the plate. St. Louis never responded, finishing with six hits and a lone run.
The game ended 9-1, with the final Pirates tally coming on a solo shot from Russell Martin in the ninth off Jason Motte.
The Cardinals had the chance to pull within one game of the Milwaukee Brewers, who have led the division since April, but now sit two back heading into their meeting this weekend.
For Miller, the All Star break will provide not only a physical respite but give him time to recenter mentally, something he said he’s looking forward to.
“You know, think about the first half, think about what you need to work on, how you’re going to get better and have a little bit of time to put it all together and come back strong for the second half.”
He said he likely won’t pick up a baseball until next Thursday’s mandatory team workout.
Joe Kelly will take the mound Friday after being on the DL since mid-April. Tyler Lyons, who was dressed in street clothes rather than the customary travel attire, will be the man sent to AAA to make room.
When asked whether Molina’s absence was a driving factor in Thursday’s collapse, Matheny said the club simply needed to focus on the task at hand.
“We want to get all our guys back, but right now we have to play the game. If we’re looking for excuses they’re always going to be there,” he said. “It’s next guy up. Who’s going to pick up the slack? Obviously Tony is going to have to do a great job behind the plate and Audry [Perez] when he gets a chance. But after that who’s going to take the leadership role and who’s going to take the bull by the horns and say ‘ok let’s go?’ We’ve got the guys in that room to do it, we just have to apply it.”