Bucs break up no-no, but can't close out Cards

Bucs break up no-no, but can't close out Cards

Bucs break up no-no, but can't close out Cards

PITTSBURGH -- The dramatic muse had a good day on Monday. But not quite as good a day as Michael Wacha, so the National League Division Series returned to the tarmac.

Game 4's ultimate moment found Andrew McCutchen in the batter's box in the ninth inning as the potential winning run, and the potential went unrealized on a popup to second baseman Matt Carpenter.

Thus the Cardinals sealed a 2-1 win at PNC Park to take the Pirates back to Busch Stadium for the final act of an NLDS in a 2-2 knot, and to preserve Wacha's gem in all its one-hit glory.

Pedro Alvarez had given another house record crowd of 40,493 one more chance to erupt, spoiling Wacha's no-hitter with a home run with one out in the eighth.

Then, however, the house fell silent. Either until Game 3 of the NL Championship Series -- or until April. That will be determined in Wednesday's Game 5 (8 p.m. ET on TBS).

"We would have liked to have gotten it here at home," McCutchen said, "in front of our crowd. It doesn't always go the way you want it to go. So we still have another game to play."

These Bucs already have one elimination-game win on their resume, in last week's NL Wild Card Game. Will that experience help?

"We'll find out, won't we?" Marlon Byrd said, grinning. "It will be a great game. Both teams want this."

On some level, the Pirates knew the road to the NLCS would have to go through St. Louis. The Cards, after all, are champions of their division. Now that road will literally go through the Gateway City.

That is where the Bucs will again try to notch their first postseason series win since the 1979 World Series triumph over the Orioles. In the inset of the big picture of the green Pirates attempting to oust the playoff-steeped Cardinals, rookie Gerrit Cole will attempt to best Adam Wainwright, who already has two World Series rings.

Charlie Morton, whose gripping duel with Wacha was interrupted by Matt Holliday's two-run homer in the sixth, cautioned against selling his team short because of its relative lack of postseason cred.

"A lot of people would say ... we've lost 20 years in a row, we haven't been to the playoffs," Morton conceded. "A lot of the guys in this clubhouse had never been on a winning team, let alone in the playoffs. So I really think it's not about where we have been in terms of overall experience, but about where we are right now as a team.

"How are we viewing the next game? What's our perspective? And I think we've done a great job of that -- in staying levelheaded and being objective."

Objective: Do it now the harder way, the only way this team really knows.

"We gotta forget about today," Neil Walker said, "and focus on what's in front of us, and that's a one-game playoff. We've faced adversity numerous times this year. This'll be just one more."

Walker was 0-for-3, extending his hitless NLDS to 16 at-bats, before drawing a walk off Trevor Rosenthal with two outs in the ninth to bring up McCutchen at the game's resolution point.

"They had, right there, the guy they want to see at the plate," said Carlos Beltran, who was watching from right field. "He has had an MVP-type of year for them. The reason they are where they are is because of his numbers and the type of player that he is. It was good for us to get him out right there."

Pittsburgh's No. 22 missed the chance to upstage St. Louis' 22s.

When Wacha needed help after walking Russell Martin following Alvarez's home run, he got it from Carlos Martinez, also 22. Then, Rosenthal, a wise old man of 23, handled the ninth for the save, something of which he had only three during the regular season.

"You look at the three young players we threw out there in situations that they weren't real accustomed to and how they produced," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's a pretty impressive day for them."

Wacha was five outs shy of the third postseason no-hitter in Major League history when Alvarez's third homer of this NLDS awoke the crowd that had been holding its breath since the 22-year-old right-hander's domination began.

Showing up to PNC Park with the perfect silencer, the St. Louis rookie mowed through the Pittsburgh lineup in near-perfect fashion for 7 1/3 innings, only a sixth-inning leadoff walk of Martin separating him from flirting with the second perfect game in postseason history.

Wacha had taken the crowd out early. Their chants of his name lost steam with every strikeout of the Bucs -- two of the first three, five of the first seven.

Alvarez, who wears the El Toro nickname, wasn't the only bull in this rodeo. Weighing how his own pitcher's excellence had been dismissed, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, "I think the cowboys say [Morton] drew a tough bull today."

Neither team got a man past first base until the Cards got two of them in the fifth. With one out, David Freese walked, Pete Kozma punched a single to left and both moved up on Wacha's two-strike sacrifice bunt. But Morton recovered to strike out Carpenter.

The following inning, the Cardinals did not need a runner in scoring position to get two runs. Beltran, an October giant the Bucs had clearly learned to avoid, drew his second straight four-pitch walk, and Holliday followed with a drive over the center-field fence for a 2-0 lead. The Pirates faced their first deficit in three home postseason games.

Asked prior to the game about pitching around Beltran, Hurdle did not need to be prescient to point out: "It's a good question -- but the problem is that guy hitting behind Beltran is a good hitter as well."

Being extra careful around Beltran, however, was ultimately Morton's call.

"In a situation like that -- nobody on, no outs -- you don't want to just put him on," Morton said. "If you go back, you'll see I was having trouble throwing strikes to some people, not just Beltran. But in that at-bat, I don't want him to hurt me; he's done well against me, and has done well this series.

"So, yeah -- you try to make the best pitch you can -- make him hit your pitch. Just one of those things -- you try to stay aggressive, go after him. If I had to do it over again, maybe I challenge him -- and then maybe he hits a home run."

Morton showed up with his A-game against a St. Louis team that had a career hold on him (2-9, 6.42 ERA), but he ultimately couldn't keep up with Wacha. Departing after issuing his fourth walk three batters after Holliday's homer, Morton allowed three hits in 5 2/3 innings, with four strikeouts.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.