The Pittsburgh Pirates were riding high going into Game 1 of the NLDS on Oct. 3. Not only had the Pirates reached their first postseason series since 1992, they had already won their first playoff game since then to get there. However, the St. Louis Cardinals reminded Pittsburgh of how painful the postseason can be in Game 1, and needed only one big inning to do it.
The Cardinals’ 9-1 victory came about because all the damage was done in the third inning. A.J. Burnett was finally pulled without recording an out in that inning, after giving up seven runs first. It started with a three-run Carlos Beltran home run, then kept escalating until Burnett gave up a bases loaded walk, followed by a David Freese double that cleared the bases.
Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle left himself open to criticism by leaving Burnett out too long. Given that Adam Wainwright was already mowing Pittsburgh down, there was virtually no margin for error. Seven runs was plenty for the Cardinals, as Wainwright still shut down the Pirates by allowing three hits over seven runs anyway.
PNC Park has already hosted its very first playoff game, but there may only be one more left there in 2013, unless the Pirates bounce back immediately in Game 2 on Oct. 4. To avoid an 0-2 hole, the Pirates are sending Gerrit Cole to try and improve on Burnett’s performance, while Lance Lynn tries to match Wainwright’s for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals won the NL Central in part by sweeping the Pirates in St. Louis from Sept. 6-8. Unless Pittsburgh can quickly remember how to win in Busch Stadium, it could be swept out of the postseason right as it finally got back in. But even when the Pirates made the playoffs more often, they hadn’t won any rounds since the 1979 World Series.
St. Louis is a much more recent World Series champion, and certainly looked capable of a second title in three years during Game 1. If Pittsburgh still wants to get in the way, it will bounce back from a crushing opening defeat to pull off a Game 2 road upset -- like the Cardinals did when they started their championship run in 2011 against the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Cardinals and Pirates will jump right back into things at 1:07 p.m. est on the MLB Network.