PITTSBURGH – There were four key takeaways Saturday night in the Cardinals’ 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
First was that the Pirates almost never beat the Cardinals at PNC Park. In their past 31 meetings here, the Cardinals have won 26.
Second, the Cardinals obliterate left-handed pitching. They entered the game leading the majors in slugging percentage and OPS against left-handers and they knocked out left-handed starter Jose Quintana in the fourth inning as Paul Goldschmidt, hitting safely in his 14th consecutive game, raked Quintana for three of his four hits. .
Goldschmidt raised his own average against left-handers this season to .519. He is 11 for 17 (.647) in his career against Quintana. “We enjoy seeing lefties,” said manager Oliver Marmol.
Goldschmidt said, “I didn’t crush any of those balls, but I found some holes out there.”
Third, the Cardinals may have something after all in right-hander Drew VerHagen, who has pitched little this season because of his time on the injured list after coming over from Japan. Relieving left-handed rookie Matthew Liberatore, who began faltering in the fifth inning in his first big-league game, VerHagen knocked off 2 1/3 hitless innings to get the game to Andre Pallante and Ryan Helsley, recording his first Cardinals win in the process.
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“It was good to see him get some meaningful outs,” said Marmol, “because we’re going to need him in some bigger situations.” He’s got some swing-and-miss stuff. “
VerHagen had been set back by both a hip impingement and COVID. “It was an unfortunate sequence of events,” he said.
Helsley, who gained his second save, said, “It was kind of a coming-out party for him. We hadn’t gotten to see him pitch a whole lot. He dominated. “
Fourth, the Cardinals are running out of healthy outfielders. Tyler O’Neill (right shoulder impingement) is already on the injured list. Dylan Carlson, playing center because Harrison Bader didn’t start due to “light-headedness”, came out in the third inning because of a tight left hamstring, which could keep him out a while. Infielder Tommy Edman took his first tour in center field since 2019.
Bader was scratched after he barely could stand up in the batter’s box in pregame hitting. He had had a bad reaction to some anti-inflammatory medicine he had taken for an inflamed heel although after lying down and getting fluids in him, he was able to play at the end and should be ready to play Sunday.
“I completely lost balance,” Bader said. “Never again (for the medicine). That was pretty scary, I’m not going to lie. “
Carlson, who felt a tightness in his hamstring when he chased a double in the second inning, probably won’t be playing.
Goldschmidt, hitting .342, doubled to left in the first inning, extending his on-base streak to 28 games. That hit went for naught, but not his second double in the next inning when the Cardinals scored four runs, three of them unearned.
Pittsburgh third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes mishandled a sure double-play ball hit by Yadier Molina after Juan Yepez had walked and Carlson had singled. Yepez scored on the error and then Edmundo Sosa slashed a single to the left, scoring Carlson.
With two outs, Goldschmidt shot his double past first base to score Molina and Sosa.
Liberatore surrendered two runs in the home second.
After Ben Gamel walked, Domingo Castillo lined a double over the head of left fielder Corey Dickerson and off the wall. Gamel scored on a wild pitch off the glove of catcher Molina.
Yoshi Tsutsugo then doubled out of the reach of Carlson in center to make it 4-2. Liberatore wasn’t damaged further in the inning, though, as Carlson ranged into deep center to pull down Michael Perez’s long fly. Carlson said he actually already experienced discomfort chasing the double.
Edman had played only two innings in center field previously in his career and hadn’t even brought his outfielder’s glove on the trip, having to use Brendan Donovan’s.
“I said, ‘I need you to play center,'” Marmol told Edman. “Go get me a glove,” he said.
Goldschmidt marveled that Edman “hadn’t even taken any balls in the outfield this year and then he had to go and play the toughest position. The guy’s invaluable. “
Edman, who finished the game at second base, can hit at any position, though. After Dickerson doubled to left with two out in the fifth, Edman singled him home.
Liberatore was tagged for two runs in the fifth when Dickerson, a former Gold Glover as a Pirate, had another misadventure in the left field. With two out, Hayes singled to left. Bryan Reynolds sent a shot to the left which he thought was going to be a home run as he jogged to first. It was a home run, but not the way he envisioned it.
The liner hit near the top of the left-field wall and Dickerson, close to the wall, suddenly found the ball caroming past him into left center where it rolled briskly on the warning track. By the time Edman could return the ball toward the infield, Reynolds was well on his way to a standup inside-the-parker, the first one the Pirates had hit here in nine years.
The last three inside-the-parkers given up by the Cardinals all have been struck by the Pirates, including by Adam Frazier in 2017 and Alex Pressley in 2012.
Liberatore allowed a double and a walk before departing. He said his nerves were fine but “I didn’t get ahead on guys tonight and I felt like the fastball command wasn’t there.”
VerHagen relieved to walk Castillo and the count ran full on Tsutsugo, who grounded a ball up the middle. VerHagen missed it, but Sosa, gliding to his left, didn’t as he threw out the batter to maintain the slim lead.
“That was a sweet play,” said VerHagen. “I felt I should have had that one.”
Sosa made a better play in the seventh, fielding Reynolds’ smash on the outfield grass and then whirling and throwing to first. “His range is impressive,” Marmol said.
Later in the inning, Edman made his first regular-season putout as a center fielder, running down Gamel’s deep fly ball. He had caught the only ball hit to him in the eighth inning of the final game of the 2019 league championship series.
Rookie Pallante breezed through the eighth before Helsley, throwing 102 mph, wrapped it up as the Cardinals’ bullpen didn’t allow a hit in 4 1/3 innings.
Helsley, almost unfair for hitters, hasn’t allowed an earned run in 14 2/3 innings, giving up just two hits and striking out 26. “I like having ‘unfair’ on our side,” said Marmol.