The Pirates are one of the biggest surprises of the 2011 season. It’s been a while since the Cardinals played them, all the way back in the first week of the season when the Pirates took two of three. Of course it seemed a fluke then. They aren’t contenders …
Except now they are, battling the Cards and the Brewers for the top spot in the NL Central. The Pirates were tied with the Brewers for first place going into last night’s game. Fans are showing up at PNC Park, as last night’s game was the 11th sellout of the year. Strong pitching has led the way for Pittsburgh this season.
But two Cardinals in particular have excelled against the Pirates, especially at PNC Park. And Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter continued their success last night in the Cardinals 6-4 win.
Albert made his presence known in his first at-bat, knocking a homer out to center field following a Jon Jay triple to give the Cards a 2-0 lead. He doubled in the second and singled in the seventh, leaving him with only a triple needed for the cycle when he reached the plate in the ninth. He lined it deep to left, so maybe it could roll into the corner and give him a chance … but it quickly bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double.
Those four hits give him a career average of .393 at PNC Park with 27 homers, 32 doubles, 79 RBI and a slugging percentage of .749 — with two more games in this series and six more left this season.
Then there’s Chris Carpenter. Last night wasn’t his prettiest start of the season, but he pitched eight innings and allowed four runs on 10 hits. Most of the damage was confined to two innings, and he retired the last seven hitters he faced. He’s now won five straight games, improved his record to 6-7 and lowered his ERA to 3.73. His record against the Pirates is now 12-2 and he’s 6-1 at PNC Park with a 2.90 ERA.
And last night he showed his offensive skills as well, with two singles and an RBI. He displayed some of his feistiness too, as Joe Strauss described:
A game that appears to be adding layers by the inning saw the Cardinals take a 5-2 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates on starting pitcher Chris Carpenter’s two-out single — and manager Tony La Russa nearly get run by plate umpire Laz Diaz.
Carpenter appeared upset by Diaz after reaching first base on his single. La Russa likewise went to first base umpire Wally Bell before turning his attention to Diaz, who pointed him back to the first-base dugout. La Russa initially stood his ground and said something to Diaz before retreating.
Diaz had scolded the Cardinals’ bench after the game’s first pitch, a strike to Ryan Theriot.
Carpenter may have been additionally miffed by some ball-and-strike calls during the Pirates’ two-run second inning.
Diaz must be a member of the Joe West Fan Club, because he spent too much of the night trying to bring attention to himself. Who else prefers it when the umpires just do their jobs … period?
Someone who did his job without incident last night was Fernando Salas, who allowed a one-out hit in the bottom of the ninth but earned his 18th save.
Also shining last night were David Freese, with his own first-inning two-run homer, and Yadi with an eighth-inning blast. Like Albert, Yadi was also a triple away from the cycle last night — he singled in the first and doubled in the third.
It wouldn’t be a Cardinals game without their patented 2011 move, the ever-popular GIDP. They added three more to their majors-leading total that’s now 108. Yadi hit into his 14th, Matt Holliday into his 11th and Freese into his fifth.
In case you were wondering, as we were on Twitter last night, every position player except Matt Carpenter and Pete Kozma have hit into double plays this year — even Andrew Brown. No pitchers have, however.
Tonight is game two of the sold-out series, with Jaime Garcia facing All-Star Kevin Correia. Game time is 6:05 p.m. Central.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.