It was a shaky start for the St. Louis Cardinals and starting pitcher Carlos Martinez Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But Martinez settled and St. Louis batsmen were able to scratch out just enough runs for an extremely important one-run win.
The victory put the Redbirds six games ahead of the Bucs in the National League Central Division race and, at the very least, limited the amount of damage the red-hot Pittsburgh could do to the advantage during the teams’ three-game set.
The Pirates scored runs in the first, third and fourth innings, thanks to some key, two-out hits to take a 3-1 lead. Meanwhile, the Cardinals missed chances for big innings early.
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In the first they had runners at the corners with only one out when Jason Heyward appeared to ground into an inning-ending double play.
But manager Mike Matheny jumped out of the dugout without even waiting for Cardinals coaches to review the video to ask for a replay. His hunch was correct and Heyward was determined to be safe, salvaging one run in the inning.
In the third inning, the Cardinals had the bases loaded with one out and failed to score when Randal Grichuk struck out and then Yadier Molina grounded out.
Martinez stuck out his rough start and ended up pitching eight innings with nine hits but no walks allowed. He struck out eight and dominated his last four frames.
He was rewarded in the fifth inning when the Birds plated three runs when Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta walked. Jason Heyward drove in Wong with a single to make the score 3-2. Grichuk advanced the runners with a soft groundout then Molina scored Wong with a medium fly ball to tie the game at three.
With two outs, Stephen Piscotty singled to drive in the go-ahead run.
It was impressive how Martinez turned things around. But I am concerned about what is going to happen in the playoffs when he seemingly was overly hyped up early to his detriment.
Meanwhile, with Martinez being hit and miss lately, it’s likely he’s showing signs of fatigue. So I’m not sure why Matheny refused to use his bullpen with several capable late innings men on hand while letting Martinez throw well over 100 pitches.
Matheny explained that he was trying to win one game and that he believed Martinez was the best man for the job. But St. Louis can’t afford for Martinez to be injured and his career to be altered over one game.
The Cardinals had chances to stretch the lead later, including another bases loaded with one out situation. But they couldn’t add on and closer Trevor Rosenthal didn’t have any room to work with in the ninth.
But he proved to be up to the task, Rosenthal struck out the side for the win.
The victory assures, worst case scenario, that the Pirates could only cut into the St. Louis lead by one game by the end of the three-game set. But, hopefully, the Birds can keep things rolling and win one or both of the next two games to increase their advantage.