PITTSBURGH -- It has been an extraordinary season for the St. Louis Cardinals, so why wouldn't they raise a third consecutive National League Central pennant in extraordinary fashion? That was the case on Wednesday night, when lefty Tyler Lyons filled an emergency with the best start of his career and was backed by Jason Heyward's third-inning grand slam as the Cardinals personally knocked out the Pirates, 11-1.
St. Louis' 100th win officially eliminated the second-place Bucs, who posted their 96th win in the opener of Wednesday's split doubleheader but have to settle for a third straight appearance in the NL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser. The Cardinals will play the winner of that game in the NL Division Series, which begins on Oct. 9.
"This is real special, just because of the adversity that was thrown at us," said Matt Carpenter, who scored three times and set the tone with a game-opening triple. "We talked about what's happened in the calendar year. You have a teammate pass away in Oscar [Taveras]. You just have player after player hit the DL. You lose your ace. You lose your three-hole hitter for a lot of the season. It just seems like one thing after another kept happening, but this team never quit, and they went on to win as many games as I have since I've been here. It's just amazing."
"You can get frustrated and say, 'Dang, if we were in any other division, we'd be in first place, by a lot.' But why dwell on something not possible?" said Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates' five-time All-Star outfielder. "You've got to man up. They played better. They got 100 wins, we only got 96."
Batting fourth, Heyward cleaned up for the top of the Cardinals' lineup, responsible for most of a 10-hit attack. Carpenter, Jon Jay, Jhonny Peralta and Heyward combined to go 7-for-12, score eight runs and drive in seven.
Lyons, starting in place of Carlos Martinez, out for the rest of the season with a strained right shoulder, went seven scoreless innings and allowed four hits while striking out five without a walk.
"Frankly, I thought it might happen, because that's how it's worked all year," general manager John Mozeliak said of Lyons' special start. "The moment you need someone to step up and do something, they do it. The way we have been defined all year, somebody gives us a chance. Tonight we needed a win. It [takes] a lot of pressure now off the weekend."
Pirates starter Charlie Morton went two-plus innings, departing with the bases loaded and none out. Southpaw Bobby LaFromboise entered to face the lefty-hitting Heyward, who lined his second career grand slam into the right-field seats. Morton is 0-9 with a 5.37 ERA in his last 11 starts against St. Louis, with the Pirates having lost all 11 games.
"An exciting atmosphere, all those people showed up, then to pitch like that ... It was heartbreaking," said Morton, who understood that he'd be on a short leash. "That was to be expected, considering how I threw the ball."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED J-Hey does it all: Heyward had his handprints all over Wednesday's win as he showed off every facet of his game. His second career grand slam was the dagger, but he also made two spectacular defensive plays, was able to score from first on Matt Adams' double in the first inning and doubled in the seventh. Heyward's diving catch in the third took a hit away from Francisco Cervelli. He then went up against the right-field wall to rob Michael Morse in the fifth.
"Hung in there, and I finally squared one up and it got out," Heyward said of his grand slam. "You don't try to hit a home run there. The odds are against you with a lefty. I don't think I faced that guy before, either. So I was just trying to get a pitch to hit and not miss it." More >
Move backfires: Pirates manager Clint Hurdle strayed from his usual conservative style to put rookie LaFromboise -- who'd totaled only 6 2/3 innings all season -- into a high-leverage spot in the third, bringing him into a 2-0 game with the bases loaded and none out. The move did not work out in the Pirates' favor, as Heyward whistled his grand slam into the right-field bleachers.
"Since [Bobby's] been with us, left-handers were 2-for-15 with eight punchouts against [him]," Hurdle said. "Left-handed hitters at that point were 4-for-5, with [Jay hit twice], against Charlie, so I didn't want that matchup there."
Lyons roars: Without a start since Sept. 2, Lyons stepped in for the injured Martinez and was sensational. He faced the minimum through 7 2/3 innings and then closed his outing by inducing a groundout with two aboard. Lyons, who has now made 20 career starts for the Cardinals, hadn't finished seven innings in one since his second Major League outing.
"Everyone would love to be in a situation where you've got a chance to go out there and ... clinch arguably one of the best divisions in baseball," Lyons said. "That's all I viewed it as, an opportunity to go out and help the team win again and try to clinch what we started back in Spring Training." More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With three games remaining, the 96-63 Pirates have already matched the 1997 Yankees (96-66) for the fifth-most wins by a non-championship team since MLB's three-division format was introduced in 1994.
"They won their 100th game. We got 96. The separation is what it is. It's a hard league," Hurdle said.
With his appearance in the eighth inning, Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist became the third left-hander in franchise history to pitch in 80 regular-season games. Only Steve Kline (89 in 2001) and Ray King (86 in 2004) appeared more often than Siegrist, whose 80 games pitched are also a Major League most this year.
"This is, I must say, one of the best [celebrations]. It was sort of subdued on the field, I think, out of respect for the visiting team. Once they got in here [to the clubhouse], it just took off. It's been a tremendous year. To get 100 wins in this division against the competition we had, which is really strong, is quite a thing." -- Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.
"I'm not speechless a lot, but it's special. We keep saying that we've been through a lot of injuries, but who would have thought? 100 wins. Winning the division. Clinching best record. I haven't been here for other years, but I have to say that this year has been one of the most special years for a lot of the guys in here." -- Carlos Villanueva, who struck out Starling Marte to end the game
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Cardinals put an extra baserunner on in the first inning with a successful challenge on a no-call hit-by-pitch by home-plate umpire Gary Cederstrom. After a one-minute review, it was determined that a Morton pitch hit Jay in the foot. Jay was eventually erased on a double play, and then hit by a pitch again in his next at-bat.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: With the division title wrapped up, the Cardinals will tune up for the postseason during a three-game series in Atlanta. Jaime Garcia will start on Friday against right-hander Julio Teheran. First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. CT.
Pirates: Following an off-day on Thursday, the Pirates will kick off their final series of the season with the first of three against the Reds on Friday at 7:05 p.m. in PNC Park, with Francisco Liriano penciled in for the start.