Pirates fall to Cardinals to cede NL Central title
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pirates spent the last four months breathlessly trying to chase down the St. Louis Cardinals.
They’ll have to wait for the NL Division Series, if they make it that far.
Jason Heyward’s third-inning grand slam powered the Cardinals to an 11-1 rout of the Pirates in the second game of a doubleheader on Wednesday night, giving St. Louis its third straight division title and 11th since 1994 while relegating the Pirates to the wild-card game for a third consecutive year.
“The ultimate goal hasn’t changed, to win a world championship,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’re just going to have go about it in a different method now.”
The Pirates have 277 wins since the start of the 2013 season, the second-best mark in the majors over that span. The resurgent franchise also has zero division crowns to show for it. Why? The Cardinals have 287 victories over the same period.
Pittsburgh’s 96-63 record heading into the final weekend of the season would be good enough to lead any of the other five divisions in the majors. Just not in the obscenely competitive NL Central. While St. Louis gets a few extra days of rest next week, the Pirates and Chicago Cubs will meet in the wild-card on Wednesday.
“You’ve got to man up,” Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. ”(The Cardinals) played better. They had 100 wins. We had 96. That’s why they won. ”
The Pirates missed a chance to inject some real drama into the final days of the regular season when it left 16 runners on base in a 3-0 loss on Monday night. Though Gerrit Cole threw seven strong innings during an 8-2 victory in the opener on Wednesday to briefly pull the Pirates within three games, the Cardinals wasted little time getting to Game 2 starter Charlie Morton.
Then again, they always do. Morton came in winless against St. Louis since April 4, 2011, a span of 11 starts. Tasked with forcing St. Louis to wrap up the division in Atlanta on Friday, Morton faltered yet again.
Carpenter led off the game with a triple to the gap in left-center, with normally sure handed Pittsburgh outfielders McCutchen and Starling Marte letting the ball scoot between them and roll to the wall. Carpenter scored on a double play, Heyward singled and then scored on a double by Adams.
Morton (9-9) temporarily gathered himself only to unravel completely in the third. Carpenter doubled, Morton hit Jon Jay with a pitch and walked Jhonny Peralta. Reliever Bobby LaFromboise came in only to watch Heyward send his fourth pitch streaking into the seats in right-center to make it 6-0 and send the attendants in the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park scrambling to prepare for a postgame celebration.
“Folks showed up tonight, everybody’s excited, and I go out there and I give it up,” Morton said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
St. Louis starter Tyler Lyons (3-1), who has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen all year, didn’t let the cushion go to waste. He gave up four hits in seven innings, striking out five without a walk.
“Obviously we have bigger plans,” Lyons said. “This is exciting and hopefully we can ride this out for a little while longer.”
Pittsburgh, despite already assured of its best regular season record in more than two decades, won’t have the luxury of a breather as it tries to hold off the Cubs for the right to host the wild-card game.
Though MLB commissioner Rob Manfred understands the way it looks when the team with the second-best record in the majors isn’t assured of a spot in the Division Series, he’s not in a rush to alter the way the playoffs are seeded.
“I think that when we went to the one-game wild card and added the second wild card, our overarching goal was to promote people playing hard through the end of the season, keep teams in the hunt,” Manfred said at a news conference Wednesday. “I think that the structure has been very successful in that regard. I think a secondary goal was to disadvantage wild-card teams, to make a division championship meaningful, and I think the system does that, as well.”
Francisco Cervelli’s grand slam off Michael Wacha (17-7) provided Cole (19-8) all the offense he would need to improve to 12-2 in September during his young career. Neil Walker also homered for the Pirates.
Cardinals: Made room for Wainwright by placing RHP Carlos Martinez on the 60-day disabled list with a strained right shoulder.
Pirates: Cervelli was treated between games by trainers after taking a foul ball off his left ear in the opener. He remained in the game and started the nightcap, a rarity for a catcher.
Cardinals: St. Louis wraps up the year with a three-game set with the Braves in Atlanta when Jaime Garcia (10-5, 2.36 ERA) faces Julio Teheran (10-8, 4.16).
Pirates: Pittsburgh host Cincinnati on Friday looking to secure homefield advantage in the wild card. Francisco Liriano (12-7, 3.27 ERA) will look for his 10th win in his last 11 decisions.