Last summer, the Pittsburgh Pirates, surprise contenders for the National League Central division, battled the Atlanta Braves on July 26th in a game that would last 19 exhausting innings. The Pirates lost it in the bottom of the 19th on a very very disputed call by home plate umpire Jerry Meals, who called Braves' base runner Julio Lugo safe at home even though it appeared that Pirates' catcher Michael McKenry tagged Lugo on the leg as he made his slide.
That loss to the Braves has often been singled-out as one of the main reasons for the Pirates miserable collapse down the stretch in 2011. I don't know how much stock you put into the outcome of one baseball game, but as Yogi Berra once said, "90% of the game is half mental," so maybe the Pirates, a team still learning how to win after so many years of losing, just couldn't shake off the loss, and maybe that did contribute heavily to their rapid descent over the last two months of the season.
Well, if last year's 19 inning loss to the Braves started the Buccos slide, maybe this year's 19 inning win over the Cardinals will catapult the team to heights it hasn't seen in two decades. If July 26th was the infamous date that the 2011 Pirates started to fall apart at the seams, maybe August 19th will be the date that the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates were fortified as legit contenders. The Pirates defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-3, in 19 innings to take two of three over the weekend at Busch Stadium and move two games up on the Cardinals in the National League wild card standings.
The Cardinals went up 2-0 in the bottom of the 4th, but the Pirates bounced back to tie it in the 6th. After that, pitching took center stage for the rest of the afternoon. Starter Jeff Karstens pitched seven strong innings, and after he departed, five Pirates relievers combined to pitch nine shutout innings. In the top of the 17th, Garrett Jones drove in pitcher James McDonald with an infield single--McDonald was used as a pinch-hitter in the inning and got on base with a hit. Unfortunately, reliever Juan Cruz gave up the tying run in the bottom of the 17th inning on a sacrifice fly.
However, in the top of the 19th inning, Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez continued his impressive daylight power (just before dusk, fortunately) with a bomb to right-center field to give the Pirates a 4-3 lead. Later in the inning, Andrew McCutchen added some insurance with a two-run single to make it 6-3.
Starter Wandy Rodriguez, called on to pitch even though he was the scheduled starter for tonight's game in San Diego, closed out the game with two scoreless innings to earn his first win as a member of the Pirates.
It was certainly a memorable day for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans. Time is going to be the greatest factor in determining the impact of yesterday's win. However, if Pittsburgh does go on to clinch a postseason berth, many might point to the 19 inning battle in St. Louis as the game that put the team over the top.