PITTSBURGH – Andrew McCutchen swung as hard as he could, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ star aiming for the seats in right-center field and the two-run homer that would put his team in the NL Championship Series.
The ball didn’t cooperate. Instead, it floated harmlessly into the waiting glove of St. Louis second baseman Matt Carpenter for the final out in the Cardinals’ 2-1 victory Monday, sending the NL division series to a decisive Game 5.
“I wish it were a little more of the barrel,” McCutchen said. “It would have been a great story.”
It was, just not for the Pirates.
St. Louis rookie Michael Wacha baffled Pittsburgh over 71/3 dominant innings, allowing just one hit to help the Cardinals fend off elimination yet again and tie it at 2-all.
It’s the kind of resilience the Pirates are trying to build themselves.
“A lot of the guys in the clubhouse have never even been on a winning team, let alone the playoffs,” Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton said. “I really think it’s not about where we’ve been in terms of overall experience but where we are now. I think we’ve done a great job of that and staying in this thing levelheaded.”
Pittsburgh will need to rely on it after getting handcuffed by 22-year-old Wacha, who overwhelmed the Pirates with an expert mix of fastballs and change-ups.
“I guess that’s why we play five,” McCutchen said. “We’ll be ready for the fifth one.”
Pedro Alvarez hit his third homer of the series, connecting with one out in the eighth for Pittsburgh’s only hit. The Cardinals weren’t much better, finishing with only three hits, but that was enough. Matt Holliday got two of them, including his two-run homer off Morton in the sixth.
Wacha’s lone stumble came with one out in the eighth, when Alvarez got the fans roaring with his homer. Russell Martin walked to chase Wacha in favor of Carlos Martinez. Catcher Yadier Molina threw out pinch-runner Josh Harrison on a botched hit-and-run and Martinez struck out Jose Tabata to end the eighth.
Trevor Rosenthal entered and walked Neil Walker with two outs to set up a showdown with Pittsburgh’s MVP candidate. Rosenthal fell behind 3-0 but battled back and sent a cutter to McCutchen that he feels he narrowly missed.
“I felt like he gave me a pitch and I just ran out of barrel a little bit,” McCutchen said.
And that sent the series back to St. Louis Wednesday for a final.