PITTSBURGH • The numbers everybody knew Pittsburgh pinch hitter Ike Davis brought to the plate screamed for a lefty reliever to greet him from the mound, but what Cardinals manager Mike Matheny knew about his bullpen and his opponent’s bench led him to a different decision.
The result landed in the seats beyond right-center field.
Matheny stayed with reliever Seth Maness in the bottom of the eighth inning, rather than bringing in lefty Randy Choate and watching Davis walk back to the dugout in favor of a righty. Maness misplaced an offspeed pitch over the plate and Davis capitalized for a three-run homer that erased the Cardinals’ plucky rally and rescued the Pirates from a second capsized bullpen in as many nights.
Davis’ third pinch-hit homer of the season provided the difference in a 5-2 victory Tuesday at PNC Park.
Convinced Davis and his .100 average against lefties wouldn’t have stayed in the game to face Choate, Matheny opted not to bring his lefty specialist.
“They pull him pretty fast,” Matheny said. “Any time we bring Randy in, we have to be — in my opinion — in a game-changing situation. We have to be extremely confident that that lefty is going to stay in there. I’ve watched Clint (Hurdle) too many times. I know exactly what he’s going to do in those situations. That’s usually the deciding factor. And that’s putting Randy in a real tight spot.”
The Pirates evened this three-game series with Davis’ pinch-hit homer and have a chance to shave another game off the Cardinals’ wild-card lead in the series finale this afternoon. The third-place Pirates trail the second-place Cardinals by 3½ games in the National League Central standings. The Cardinals could have extended that gap to 5½ games with a win that Matheny acknowledged would have been “stolen.”
For the second consecutive night, the Cardinals mustered scant chances against the Bucs starter and had to wait to face a reliever before the offense ignited.
Righty Gerrit Cole, newly back from injury, took a no-hitter two outs into the sixth inning before Kolten Wong doubled. Despite a bloated pitch count — he had thrown 105 pitches to get his first 18 outs — Cole started the seventh. He didn’t end it. The Cardinals chased him with two hits that would be the kindling for a game-tying rally. Rookies Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk had the pivotal hits, with Grichuk delivering his first career pinch hit to score Jhonny Peralta and tie the score at 2-2. Grichuk batted for Lance Lynn, who had bought time against Cole’s nine strikeouts with six strong innings and two runs allowed.
Maness (5-3) inherited the tie score in the eighth.
Before Maness threw his first pitch, Pirates manager Hurdle had already thinned his bench. Andrew McCutchen, who was just on the disabled list with a rib cage injury, left the game after slamming into the center-field wall to make a catch in the third inning. McCutchen said he expected to play today despite what the team described as discomfort on the left side of his rib cage. First baseman Pedro Alvarez also had to be replaced because of a sprain to his left foot. Two of the righties that Hurdle would have had to counter Choate were already in the game.
The Pirates got two singles against Maness and the Cardinals’ righty got two outs. That brought the pitcher’s spot to the plate and Davis made the walk.
The former New York Mets lefty has hit .100 this season with a .100 slugging percentage in 32 plate appearances against lefties. He is the prototypical hitter the Cardinals had in mind when they signed Choate to a three-year deal for the specialist role. Choate has held lefthanded hitters to a .111 average and struck out 22 in 63 plate appearances. He was warm. He was ready. He was not used.
Matheny explained that despite stressing at several points this season that he’s comfortable using Choate against righties, he was not in this case.
He understood the lack of a move would draw questions.
“I trust Seth to get that guy out right there more so than Randy having to come in and watch a righthanded (hitter) face him and put him up against a wall,” Matheny said. Hurdle “is not going to hold on to his (righties).”
The Pirates had two righties remaining on the depleted bench, Chris Stewart and Jordy Mercer. Stewart has hit .444 (12 for 27) against lefties this season, and pesky Mercer has batted .313 (30 for 95). Also factoring into his decision, Matheny said, was the unavailability of Nick Greenwood and the eagerness to avoid bringing in Carlos Martinez immediately if Choate couldn’t retire one of those righties. Matheny said he wanted to avoid using setup man Pat Neshek and hold Trevor Rosenthal for any save opportunity as the away team.
Maness got ahead 1-2 on Davis and even caught the pinch-hitter way ahead on a changeup. With a 2-2 count, Maness went back to the changeup. It floated over the plate and Davis planted it in the seats.
“I knew right away,” Davis said.
“Probably wasn’t the best pitch,” Maness said. “He did a good job. You just can’t give up a home run right there.”
Lynn carried a 5.17 ERA in seven previous appearances at PNC Park but continued his month of slaying dragons by holding the Pirates to two runs through his six innings. Josh Harrison’s solo homer to open the fifth inning put the Pirates ahead 2-0 and was the only run the Bucs scored on Lynn with a base hit. Once they had nudged Cole from his gem, the Cardinals chipped away at lefty Tony Watson. Jon Jay brought home the first run with a sacrifice fly. Peralta went from first to third on Taveras’ single when Starling Marte leisurely went for the ball. And that extra 90 feet mattered for Grichuk.
The rookie, who arrived from Class AAA on Tuesday, had been hitless in six previous at-bats as a pinch hitter. Before the game, Matheny expressed eagerness to go with Grichuk’s splits. He had slugged .724 against lefties in Triple-A, and Matheny wanted to follow those numbers to get Grichuk a crack at Watson.
Grichuk rewarded the move with a single that tied the score, briefly.
“To watch them come back and not steal one …” Matheny said. “That’s what it would have been. We would have needed to steal this one. We thought we were in pretty good position to do it. Didn’t work.”