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NLDS Recap: Pirates Take Series Lead With Clutch Hitting

Andrew Tweedy |
October 7, 2013 | 3:11 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Gerrit Cole was dominant in Game 2 against the Cardinals. (Smorneau/Creative Commons)
Gerrit Cole was dominant in Game 2 against the Cardinals. (Smorneau/Creative Commons)

The Cardinals and Pirates again squared off on Sunday night for Game 3 of the 2013 NL Division Series, and the Pirates took a 2-1 series lead with a 5-3 victory.  The series has been tight thus far, with the teams splitting the first two games in St. Louis, and the Pirates taking the pivotal third game of the best-of-five series after a game-winning 8th inning rally on Sunday night in Pittsburgh.  

Game 1: Cardinals 9, Pirates 1

The Cardinals jumped out to a huge early lead in the 3rd inning with a 7-run rally, highlighted by Carlos Beltran's three-run homer off Pirates starter A.J. Burnett.  The Red Birds never looked back, taking advantage of three Pittsburgh errors that led to two unearned runs.  Adam Wainwright was dominant for the Cardinals, hurling seven innings of one-run ball and striking out nine, improving his career postseason record to 3-0 while sporting a 2.27 ERA.  The Cardinals started off the series with a big win and looked ahead to Game 2 with hopes of a two-game home sweep to open the series, but the Pirates would not fold that easily…

Game 2: Pirates 7, Cardinals 1

The Pirates and Cardinals swapped blowouts the first two games of the series, with Pittsburgh taking Game 2 by a wide margin.  The Bucs rode the strong pitching performance of Gerrit Cole who only allowed two hits through six innings in his postseason debut.  The 22-year-old showed great poise under the spotlight of baseball in October, at one point retiring 11 straight Cardinals batters before allowing a solo home run to Yadier Molina in the fifth inning.  Pedro Alvarez provided the power for Pittsburgh with a 2-run homer in the 3rd inning, kicking off his playoff career with two straight games in which he has homered.  On the Cardinals' side, starting pitcher Lance Lynn turned in a poor outing, surrendering seven hits and five earned runs while lasting only 4.1 innings.  The Pirates took Game 2 and headed back home confident about their ability to beat the Cardinals in a pivotal Game 3 on Sunday night…

Carlos Beltran has continued his postseason dominance in 2013. (bobcrowe_com/Creative Commons)
Carlos Beltran has continued his postseason dominance in 2013. (bobcrowe_com/Creative Commons)

SEE MORE: 2013 NLDS Preview: Pirates vs. Cardinals

Game 3: Pirates 5, Cardinals 3

It was only fitting that the huge Game 3 has been the most dramatic game of the series. After jumping on Cardinals starter Joe Kelly for an early 2-0 first inning lead, the Pirates' bats cooled off and the Cardinals were able to pull even with a two-run inning of their own in the top of the fifth, behind Carlos Beltran's two-RBI single off Francisco Liriano. With one swing of the bat, Beltran matched the offensive output the Cardinals have been able to muster in their last 28 innings against Liriano.  The Pirates responded in the bottom of the sixth inning with a sac fly off the bat of catcher Russell Martin to put the Bucs ahead 3-2. But it was again Beltran who knotted the game back up with a clutch solo home run in the top of the 8th inning.  

Beltran has been incredible in the postseason his entire career, boasting a .353 batting average and 16 home runs, the second-most in NL history behind only Albert Pujols (18).  This October has been no exception, as Beltran has posted a .333 average with 6 RBI and 2 HR through 3 games; however, his effort was not enough to lead the Cardinals to victory on Sunday night. 

The Pirates rallied in the bottom of the 8th inning with RBI singles from Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin to take a 5-3 lead that they never relinquished.  Now the Pirates have an opportunity to win a postseason series for the first time since 1979, when Willie Stargell and the "We Are Family" bunch won it all.  PNC Park will be rocking on Monday for Game 4, as rookie starter Michael Wacha tries to salvage the Cardinals' season against Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton and the rest of this underdog Pirates team.

Analysis of the Series Thus Far

The Pirates have taken a 2-1 lead in this series for one simple reason: They're giving the Cardinals a taste of their own medicine by relying on consistent pitching performances and hitting with runners in scoring position.  The 2013 Cardinals set an all-time record by averaging .330 with runners in scoring position as a team, but have not continued that high level of performance in this series.  

Through Game 3, the Cardinals have gone only 3-20 (.150) with runners in scoring position - a significant decrease from their regular season performance.  On the other hand, the Pirates have thrived in these situations, going 6-18 (.333) with runners in scoring position, and this timely hitting translated into back-to-back wins in Games 2 and 3 for the Bucs.  

Strengthening Pittsburgh's case for an NLCS berth is their solid starting pitching in both of their wins.  Aside from A.J. Burnett's lackluster performance in Game 1, Pirates starters Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano turned in stellar performances in Games 1 and 2, respectively, combining for 12 innings and only surrendering three runs on five hits.  The old adage that championship teams are built around pitching has proved true on countless occasions, and if the Pirates are to make a run deep into October, their pitching will have to maintain this level of recent dominance.  

And if the Cardinals are to salvage their season and come back to win the series, they will have to solve their issues with hitting with runners in scoring position and bounce back from a poor pitching performance by Lance Lynn in Game 2 (4.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER) and a bullpen meltdown in Game 3 on Sunday, after Carlos Martinez was tagged for two runs in the 8th and was credited the loss.  St. Louis has to rediscover their winning formula of clutch hitting and consistent pitching, or else they will see the Cinderella story Pirates - who have taken the rest of the league by storm this year and once again established Pittsburgh as a baseball city - move on to the National League Championship Series, one step closer to accomplishing the ultimate goal of hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy as World Series Champions.

Here's to looking forward to a huge Game 4 on Monday in Pittsburgh as Carlos Beltran and the Cardinals are set to battle Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates in a fight to keep playoff dreams alive.


Reach Staff Writer Andrew Tweedy here. Follow @nyy_baseball



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