Dazzling defense helps Cardinals’ pitching hold Pirates scoreless Friday

Pittsburgh Pirates' Canaan Smith-Njigba, center, is tagged out at home in the fourth inning by...
Pittsburgh Pirates' Canaan Smith-Njigba, center, is tagged out at home in the fourth inning by St. Louis Cardinals' Willson Contreras (40) during a baseball game Friday, April 14, 2023, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)(Michael Thomas | AP)
Published: Apr. 14, 2023 at 11:15 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - If not for a number of standout defensive plays behind him, Cardinals’ starter Jake Woodford would not have been afforded the luxury of leaving a scoreless game when Oli Marmol came to get the ball from him in the top of the sixth inning on Friday night at Busch Stadium.

St. Louis fielders provided a veil of protection around Woodford, swooping in to save runs to conclude three separate innings. If the Cardinal bats were going to get things going against Pirate pitching at some point, the St. Louis defense had provided every chance for an eventual offensive eruption to mean something.

On the Cardinals’ seventh at-bat with a runner in scoring position on the evening, it finally happened.

Nolan Gorman delivered an RBI single to center to give St. Louis its first run of the series in the sixth inning. The swing snapped a 14-inning scoreless streak and an 0-for-16 spell with RISP against Pittsburgh. The Cardinals would go on to beat the Pirates 3-0 on a night that saw one-time Cardinal Johan Oviedo carve up his former team.

Oviedo struck out 10 Cardinals across seven innings on a hyper-efficient 93 pitches. But the St. Louis fielders helped maintain the pitchers’ duel for Woodford, who scattered seven hits in 5.1 scoreless innings.

Right fielder Alec Burleson saved Woodford’s bacon in the fourth when he hosed Canaan Smith-Njigba at the plate for the final out of the inning. The top of the fifth then ended on a sprawling catch in left by Tyler O’Neill to strand a Pirates runner at third.

Though both plays were instrumental in keeping Pittsburgh off the board, the complexion of the game would have been vastly different by the time both occurred if not for the Cardinals’ Gold Glovers at the corners coming up with a dandy of a double play in the second inning.

With the bases loaded and one out in the second, Austin Hedges bounced a slow-roller to the left side that would have meant at least one run scoring But the Cardinals employ one of the few third basemen in the game that could find a way to turn it into an inning-ending double play.

On his bobblehead night at Busch, Nolan Arenado positioned himself with his right foot stretched out to the third base bag as he smoothly gloved the ball with a shuffle step before firing off a throw across the diamond. Paul Goldschmidt showed full extension to field it while keeping a toe on the bag at first to save a run in a key early spot for St. Louis.

“His internal clock and understanding the runner, where he could get two outs there, is spot on,” Marmol said of Arenado. “And then Goldy keeping his foot on the bag is equally impressive.

“It’s no secret that we’ve trailed early quite a bit, so to be able to get out of that inning the way we did and keep it at zero was important.”

With the way Giovanny Gallegos handled a 1-2-3 ninth inning, the Cardinals didn’t necessarily need the insurance runs delivered in the bottom of the eighth. But with a key swing to propel a rally, Willson Contreras implied the team would rather have those extra tallies and not need them than need them and not have them.

The St. Louis catcher stroked an RBI hit into right-center field before Gorman followed up with his second RBI knock of the night to give Gallegos the three-run cushion.

“It’s been a tough stretch for me starting the season, but it’s just baseball. You have to keep going,” Contreras said. “I don’t have a good rhythm right now at the plate but I’m just trying to put the ball in play and make good things happen. We, as a team, have had a little struggle with runners in scoring position. I was just trying to hit a ground ball to second base, whatever happened after that, I was okay with. Thank God that I was able to stay through the ball and put it in right-center.”