Pittsburgh Pirates Blow Another Late Lead In Loss Against The Cardinals

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It’s been a rocky start to the home schedule for the Pittsburgh Pirates

On Wednesday night the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals finished their two-game series at PNC Park. In similar fashion to the team’s home opener on Monday afternoon, the Pirates appeared to be in control for much of the game and well on their way to a victory over their arch nemesis from St. Louis.

Unfortunately, just as was the case on Monday, the Pirate bullpen failed to hold the lead the starting pitcher gave them leading to an extra innings loss. Following the 5-4 loss, the team is now off to a 1-3 start. What makes the start so frustrating is that the team could easily be 4-0, one could argue they *should* be 3-1, and what was expected to be a lock down bullpen has blown a tie game in one loss and a lead in the other two losses.

After the Pirates stranded the bases loaded in the bottom of the 1st inning, thanks in large part due to an above average play by Matt Carpenter to start an inning ending double play, the Bucs would draw first blood in the bottom half of the 2nd inning.

JB Shuck, who was in the lineup due to right shoulder soreness for Corey Dickerson, reached on a hustling infield single with one out in the inning. Erik Gonzalez followed with a RBI triple. As everyone anticipated pregame, the Pirates took an early 1-0 lead due to Shuck and Gonzalez.

With two outs in the inning, Adam Frazier got jammed, broke his bat, and hit a slow roller that managed to sneak through the infield. Frazier’s second hit in as many innings made it 2-0 Pirates.

Jung Ho Kang, who hit into the inning ending double play in the bottom of the 1st, made up for it in the 3rd inning. With two outs and the bases empty, Kang tomahawked a ball into the left field seats for his first MLB home run since October 1st, 2016. This gave the Bucs a 3-0 lead after 3 innings of play.

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It appeared that the story of the game on Wednesday night was Pirate starter Jameson Taillon. The budding ace kept the Cards in check throughout the night and dominated the potent St. Louis lineup.

Taillon threw 18 of 24 first pitch strikes and he had retired 11 in a row entering the 7th inning. Despite allowing a home run to Paul DeJong to start the 7th, Taillon then retired the next three batters.

In 7 innings of work, Taillon allowed just a pair of singles to go along with DeJong’s home run. He did not walk a batter, he struck out five, and he retired 17 of the final 18 batters he faced.

Throughout the night Taillon’s slider looked nasty and he was painting corners with his fastball. He looked like the budding ace the Pirates expect him to become.

When Taillon’s night ended, Keone Kela replaced him in the top of the 8th inning. Pulling Taillon who was rolling and had thrown just 85 pitches was a questionable move, with a back end duo as reliable as Kela and Felipe Vazquez it appeared to be a safe move by Clint Hurdle. Unfortunately, Kela would have a rare hiccup.

The first five pitches Kela threw on Wednesday night were balls. Pitch number six, was launched into the St. Louis bullpen by Harrison Bader. The two-run home run tied the game at 3. Kela would also allow a one-out double to Carpenter, but retired the other three batters he faced to keep the game tied.

Despite the rough outing, the team should still be confident in Kela moving forward.

Hurdle would make an interesting move with his bullpen in the 9th inning. Instead of going to Felipe Vazquez despite there no longer being a possibility for a save to be earned in the game and the heart of the Cardinal lineup due up, the Bucco skipper went with Kyle Crick. Hurdle would be rewarded for his faith in Crick as he retired the Cards in order.

What made this move an interesting one was that it was a very un-Hurdle like move. Typically in a tie game at home in the 9th inning or later, if his closer is available, that is who Hurdle hands the ball to. It was nice to see Hurdle go to Crick though with three right-haned hitters due up, Crick is nearly unhittable against RHHs, and to save Vazquez in case the top of the Cardinal lineup would bat again. However, as we’ll get to, Vazquez was never called upon in this game.

In the bottom of the 9th inning the Pirates had an opportunity to win the game. Gonzalez had a great at bat to start the inning and worked a lead off walk. After he stole second base, the Bucs had the winning run in scoring position with no one out. Unfortunately, they could not get Gonzalez home.

St. Louis pitcher John Gant stuck out Pablo Reyes before Frazier lined out to third base. Starling Marte then grounded out to end the inning.

In the top of the 10th inning Hurdle handed the ball to rookie Nick Burdi. This was the second time in as many games that Hurdle trusted Burdi in a high leverage situation. But, like Monday, Burdi would fail to hold the fort.

PITTSBURGH, PA – APRIL 03: Erik Gonzalez #2 of the Pittsburgh Pirates scores on an RBI single in the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park on April 3, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA – APRIL 03: Erik Gonzalez #2 of the Pittsburgh Pirates scores on an RBI single in the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park on April 3, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Leading off the inning Kolten Wong hit a triple off the Clemente Wall that should have only been a double. Reyes got to close to the wall in right field, causing the ball to bounce off the wall and get away from him allowing Wong to take the extra base.

After Burdi walked Bader, he should have been lifted for Vazquez. Instead, he was left in to face Tyler O’Neill who delivered a go-ahead single to make it 4-3 Cardinals. Burdi was then lifted, but for Francisco Liriano.

Liriano got Carpenter to fly out before walking Paul Goldschmidt to load the bases. While Liriano would get a strikeout and ground out to end the inning, it was not before uncorking a wild pitch that allowed the Cardinals to score another run.

Facing rookie Alex Reyes the Pirates had an opportunity in the bottom of the 10th inning. Francisco Cervelli singled to start the inning and Kang walked with one out. Reyes then walked pinch hitter Colin Moran to load the bases with one out, bringing his night to an end.

Dakota Hudson was summoned by St. Louis manager Mike Shildt with Shuck stepping to the plate with the bases loaded, one out and the Cardinals leading 5-3. Shuck put together a strong at bat, drawing a walk to cut the Cardinal lead to 5-4. Pablo Reyes then put together a less than stellar at bat that included hacking at ball three when he was ahead in the count 2-0 before grounding out to shortstop to end the game.

The Cardinals did all they could to hand this game to the Pirates on Wednesday night, but the Bucs kindly said no thank and gave it right back to St. Louis.

The early season struggles of the bullpen have come as a surprise. Entering the season the bullpen was expected to be a strength, especially the back of the bullpen, and fans should still expect it to be. This is what makes the bullpen blowing a lead in back-to-back games.

Last season the Pirates were 66-6 when leading after 6 innings. So far this season, they are 0-3. Again, this should be viewed as an early season hiccup and not the new norm.

The bullpen, and rightfully so, will get pointed at in this loss. The offense, however, was no help. Pirate hitters went just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 18 men on base. This including the bottom of the 10th inning when all the team needed to tie the game was a sacrifice fly. In no world should the Pirates have scored just 3 runs on Wednesday.

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Next up for the Pirates is a four-game series at PNC Park against the Cincinnati Reds. Game one of the series is scheduled for 7:05 on Thursday night. Tyler Mahle will make his 2019 debut for the Reds, while Jordan Lyles will come off the injured list to make his Pirate debut.