PITTSBURGH — Whatever happened later in the game to decide who had the more runs, the Cardinals had at least a gulp of concern for who was lost from the game.
All-Star closer Ryan Helsley got five pitches into his scheduled appearance Tuesday night at PNC Park before having to field a ball hit back at him and avoid the shards of a bat he split. He placed his right hand on the ground to keep his balance, and at some point in that series of events appeared to jam a finger on his pitching hand. He was unable to continue, and the Cardinals’ initial diagnosis was a jammed middle finger on his right hand. A team official said Helsley was removed out of a sense of “precaution,” and the right-hander would be reevaluated late Tuesday.
The Cardinals’ plan, after talks with the closer about how he’d like to get ready for the postseason, was to get Helsley one inning of work against the Pirates regardless of the score and then give him the next two days off. That would be his rest ahead of Game 1 of the wild-card series that opens Friday at Busch Stadium.
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The score the Cardinals’ had for Helsley was fitting — a tie game.
Rushed in to replace Helsley, rookie Zack Thompson froze the score and bought time for the Cardinals to win in extra innings. Rookie Juan Yepez singled home Ben DeLuzio, the runner spontaneously generated by rule at second to start the 10th inning, to take the Cardinals’ first lead since the third inning. Former Pirate Chris Stratton handled the bottom of the inning and Andrew Knizner handled a crucial tag at the plate to secure an 8-7 victory against Pittsburgh.
The Pirates loss their 100th game for a second consecutive season.
For the second time in as many games at PNC Park, Albert Pujols provided a lead for the Cardinals — and then it vanished. Pittsburgh doused the Cardinals with a six-run third inning to threaten a rout, but the Cardinals knotted the game, 7-7, and sent it hurtling toward extra innings. Along the way, they got work for some relievers and a sizzling relief appearance from a starter.
Still a starter, Flaherty crackles in relief
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol cautioned against reading too much into the single-inning appearance prepared for Jack Flaherty on Tuesday night.
He’s still in the mix to start a playoff game.
He’s getting in his work before a playoff series.
“This isn’t an audition to see how he responds to coming out of the ’pen,” Marmol said.
But it was a glimpse of what’s possible.
As the Cardinals continue to consider how they’ll stack their pitching staff for a best-of-three playoff series this weekend at Busch Stadium, they are also keeping their pitchers sharp in a variety of ways this week. Miles Mikolas and Jose Quintana, two candidates to start Game 1 on Friday, split Monday’s game. Jordan Montgomery and Adam Wainwright will not appear in the series. Dakota Hudson got the start Tuesday as he competes for a relief role — and Flaherty, a starter, got a relief inning as a substitute for side work.
Flaherty allowed a single and then swiftly seized control of the inning. He got a groundball on a snappy, 85.5-mph slider that was spun into a double play. For the final out of the inning, Flaherty elevated a 96-mph fastball to strike out Bucs catcher Tyler Heineman. That was Flaherty’s 600th career strikeout — and the end of his evening. A possibility the Cardinals are considering is using Flaherty for middle innings, when the matchup is right, against their opponent this weekend. The right-hander, a month removed from being on the injured list, finished the regular season with 16 strikeouts in his final 13 innings pitched.
Flaherty was going to pitch an inning regardless of score, but the game bent in a way that he could pitch a high-leverage spot and hold a 7-7 tie just as he inherited it.
Dickerson spurs Cardinals rally
The Cardinals’ meting out at-bats to their regulars by design during this series thrust Corey Dickerson into a spot where he, not Paul Goldschmidt, could boost a rally into a tie game. Dickerson pinch-hit for Goldschmidt, as planned, in the seventh inning. With one run already in and two runners on base, Dickerson, once a Gold Glove-winning outfielder with the Pirates, pulled a double down the right-field line to score two teammates.
He then scored on ONeil Cruz’s throwing error to tie the game, 7-7.
The rally began to brew at the beginning with Knizner’s leadoff double followed by Paul DeJong’s third time on base. The shortstop skipped his 500th career hit in the third inning, his 501st in the fourth inning, and then walked to follow Knizner. Brendan Donovan singled home Knizner and a four-run rally was underway to erase the Pirates’ once hearty lead.
Third comes apart on Hudson
The nature of these final games in Pittsburgh — with nothing at stake when it comes to the standings — means that the pitching plans take priority at times over the actual pitching.
As the third inning went sideways on Dakota Hudson, the Cardinals’ commitment to sticking to who they planned to pitch and when left the young right-hander out to weather one of the longest, most productive innings for the Pirates this season. For the first time since July 11, the Pirates got four consecutive hits — but did not stop there. At one point in the inning, six consecutive Pirates reached base safely against Hudson.
The Pirates sent a dozen batters to the plate.
Hudson faced 11 of them, allowed eight hits, and shouldered six runs.
The rally got a goose from a double down the right-field line and a double to the wall, but it was also prolonged by infield singles that skipped to a fielder, just one too far from making a play. Hudson had a ball he fielded but could not turn into an out against the speedy Ji Hwan Bae. Shortstop Paul DeJong reached for a high-bounder to his right, and by the time he snared it, he had no play other than to keep all the runners from advancing more than a base.
Hudson also complicated the inning by allowing the first of the six runs to score on a wild pitch and falling behind in counts that became bases hits or the inning’s one walk. In his 2 2/3 innings, Hudson allowed seven runs on nine hits and had only one strikeout. He needed more than 40 pitches to get those two outs in the third inning.
The six-run freefall misplaced the 3-1 lead the Cardinals had to start the inning and gave the Pirates a head start on again avoiding their 100th loss of the season.
Pujols ties a personal best
It wasn’t as splashy as a home run into the Allegheny River but it stayed true to the flow of his career at PNC Park. In the third inning, as a rally listed for the Cardinals and failed to produce any runs, Pujols struck for a two-out, RBI single.
The two RBIs mirrored his two-run homer Monday night and pushed him ever farther ahead of Babe Ruth with his 2,217th and 2,218th RBIs. Through six innings Tuesday, Pujols had delivered all off the Cardinals’ four runs in this series in Pittsburgh and drove home seven of the past nine they scored against the Pirates.
He had four consecutive games with at least two RBIs to tie his career high. He had done that four previous times — twice in his rookie season 2001 and again in 2008 and 2012.
The two RBIs Tuesday gave Pujols 48 since the All-Star break.
Only three players in the majors woke up Tuesday with more.