PITTSBURGH • Two familiar trends the Cardinals cannot avoid decided the game.
One new toy that couldn’t help them only made it worse.
Pedro Alvarez continued to confound the Cardinals with two home runs that launched the host Pittsburgh Pirates to 12-2 rout Friday night at PNC Park. Shelby Miller, who has yet to defeat the Pirates in his career, couldn’t survive six innings before Pittsburgh had powered past him for five runs, tying the total they had when last he pitched against them in September. Pittsburgh turned a taut, one-run game into a plunder in the sixth inning when baseball’s new replay rule didn’t help the Cardinals. Manager Mike Matheny could not request a review whether Pirates catcher Russell Martin strayed from the baseline and interfered with a throw.
Instead of an out, Molina and Matheny were left to watch a rally as the Pirates scored three times and continued the first-week bruising the Cardinals’ bullpen has taken.
For the third time in as many days, the Cardinals had to wait through a rain delay. The tarp never came off the field before first pitch at PNC Park and neither team had a chance to hit on the field. Fierce showers blew over the ballpark about 10 minutes after the scheduled first pitch and was gone as quick as it arrived.
The delay lasted 1 hour, 5 minutes.
The three-day total for the Cardinals is 7 hours, 27 minutes.
The defending National League champions returned to PNC for the first time since eliminating the Pirates in last fall’s division championship and they not too much as changed. Although they won an elimination game here in the NLDS, PNC remains a horrific place for them. In their past eight losses here the Cardinals have been outscored, 51-10. Pittsburgh righty Gerrit Cole (1-0) remains a rising star in the division, asserting himself for seven innings and holding the Cardinals to Matt Carpenter’s homer. Andrew McCutchen can fly, as he did with a bases-clearing triple in the eighth.
And Alvarez remains a slugger the Cardinals cannot solve. The former second-overall pick as hit 16 homers in his first 220 at-bats vs. the Cardinals. In the regular season, 44 of his 270 career RBIs have come against the Cardinals.
Replay cannot help Cardinals as Bucs break away
Here is where the limits of the new replay system in baseball can really be illustrated.
Right there as the Pirates take a 6-2 lead on the Cardinals.
With runners at the corners and one out, Neil Walker broke from second base. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina came up and faked a throw to second to draw the runner, Russell Martin, off third base. Martin bit on the fake and had to scramble back to the base. In the process, he cut into the grass and out of the baseline. He was running between third baseman Carpenter and Molina’s lane to throw. Molina’s throw pegged Martin in the back and ricocheted toward the Pirates’ dugout.
That gave him plenty of time to score from third and for Walker to reach third base.
Matheny stormed for the dugout for the second time in the inning, only this time he did not have access to a challenge. Interference calls – which it would be if Martin impeded Molina’s throw – are at the discretion of the umpire and cannot be reviewed by the new replay rules. The umpire’s judgment stands. In this case home plate umpire Brian Gorman listened to Matheny’s argument and convened a brief meeting with the other officials. The call stood, the run counted, and Walker was there at third to score moments later on a grounder.
The Pirates had scored their first three runs on home runs, and scored all three runs in that inning as a result of plays that Molina begged to be reviewed.
Earlier in the inning Martin had singled up the middle to bring Alvarez around from second base. Center fielder Peter Bourjos’ throw arrived before Alvarez at home, and Molina was in position to do as the Cardinals have taught this spring – tag, not block. Molina’s sweep tag arrived a hummingbird’s flap after Alvarez’s hand at home plate. Molina waved to Matheny to come out and challenge the play, though shortly after Matheny engaged Gorman he retreated to the dugout. Replays shown in the press box showed Alvarez’s hand touching home before Molina’s mitt touched him.
If that was a sign of how baseball’s replay system does operate – the manager argues to buy time for a quick review by the eyes in the clubhouse – then the call on Martin revealed how limited the replay system remains. The current system is purposefully handcuffed by the challenges and it does not allow for all of the calls to be reviewed, let alone corrected.
Homers galore as Carp swings Cards back into game
As Pittsburgh surged to a 3-0 lead tonight here at PNC Park, they did so with a show of power that last year's Cardinals weren't likely to match.
Last year's Cardinals didn't hit a regular-season homer at PNC.
Last year's Cardinals had one of the lowest total of team homers in all of the major leagues.
Homer was not where the hits were.
Pedro Alvarez hit his second homer in as many at-bats against the Cardinals to put the Pirates ahead 2-0 in the fourth inning. Travis Ishikawa followed with his first home run since May 2012 for the 3-0 lead. All three homers have come off Shelby Miller. The Cardinals starter gave up one homer to Alvarez on a fastball, and then he challenged the third baseman with a changeup. That went out, too. Just to right field instead of left field.
The Cardinals, hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position, had to find another way to keep pace with the Pirates.
Enter the homer.
That element of the offense that the Cardinals sometimes consciously forego in order to be more consistent and productive with runners in scoring position is a quick-fire way to get, you know, runs. So it was in the fifth inning as Miller singled with one out and Matt Carpenter catapulted the Cardinals back into the game.
Carpenter hit his first home run of the season -- a two-run shot into the right-field seats here at PNC. The bolt brought the Cardinals within a run as they trail 3-2 going into the bottom of the fifth.
Alvarez (who else?) puts Pirates ahead early
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez, once the gleaming power prospect of the Bucs' system, had times when he struggled to live up to his billing as the Hot Corner Hope here.
They just have never come against the Cardinals.
Alvarez has built most of his young resume against the NL Central foes, and he started earlier this spring. In his first at-bat against the Cardinals, Alvarez did what the Cardinals as a team never did here at PNC Park during the regular season -- homered. Alvarez cranked his first homer of the season (of course against the Cardinals) in the second inning on a 2-2 pitch from Shelby Miller.
The homer put the Bucs ahead 1-0 early.
The game was delayed by a 1 hour, 5 minute delay. An intense shower rolled over PNC Park but left just as quickly.
The Cardinals got a leadoff single from Matt Carpenter to start the game, but he was stranded on second base. Bucs righty Gerrit Cole started the game with a 97-mph fastball and he has retired nine consecutive at Carpenter's single.
Rain delay pushes start time to 7:15 p.m.
First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. St. Louis time after a popup storm swept over PNC Park and created a double rainbow that many of us took pictures of.
The most picturesque view in baseball got even better.
You can see them posted at www.twitter.com/dgoold.
While the rain has stayed away so far and fans are filing into their seats here at PNC Park, the tarp remains.
There has been no move to remove the tarp.
First pitch is scheduled in less than 30 minutes and there hasn't been a flinch from the grounds crew to prepare the field for the game.
That's a pretty good tell.
Although nothing official has been said, the teams are both preparing as if there will be a delay. Rain is expected to arrive at the ballpark around first pitch, close to 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. St. Louis time. That could push the game back an hour to the area of 7 p.m. St. Louis time. It would be the Cardinals third delay in three days and their fourth in soggy game-time in seven days.
Cards wait for word on weather
The tarp is over the infield here at PNC Park and neither team hit on the field because of inclement weather in the area.
What else is new?
The Cardinals' soggy season-opening road trip continues in Pittsburgh this evening, weather permitting. Cardinals righty Shelby Miller, the starter the Cardinals went to lengths to avoid against the Pirates last October, makes his season debut in April against the Bucs. Opposite him will be Pirates' young ace Gerrit Cole, the pitcher the Pirates went to for Game 5 ahead of veteran A.J. Burnett.
"We haven’t heard the forecast except coming in that it would be a little iffy today as far as how long it was going to last," said manager Mike Matheny. "We’re just progressing as if we’re starting on time."
The Cardinals would like to avoid reliever Kevin Siegrist today, if possible. That shifts the lefties to veteran Randy Choate, who faced only righties in his appearance Thursday.
Here are the lineups for tonight's game:
1. Matt Carpenter, 3B
2. Kolten, Wong, 2B
3. Matt Holliday, LF
4. Allen Craig, RF
5. Yadier Molina, C
6. Matt Adams, 1B
7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, CF
9. Shelby Miller, P
1. Starling Marte, LF
2. Travis Snider, RF
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
4. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
5. Russell Martin, C
6. Neil Walker, 2B
7. Travis Ishikawa, 1B
8. Jordy Mercer, SS
9. Gerrit Cole, P
Check back throughout the evening here for news and notes from the pre-game and, yes, weather updates through the evening.