Highs and lows
Pujols pushes hitting streak to 27 games in loss to PiratesPosted: Wednesday August 13, 2003 9:11 PM
Updated: Thursday August 14, 2003 12:58 AM
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- In a ninth inning filled with managerial maneuverings, the Pirates' Lloyd McClendon's unorthodox strategy got the better of an uncommon move by the Cardinals' Tony La Russa.
Randall Simon's pinch-hit single with the bases loaded in the ninth gave the Pirates a 6-5 victory over St. Louis on Wednesday night, preventing the Cardinals from gaining a first-place tie with Houston in the NL Central.
St. Louis lost for the first time in five games despite Albert Pujols' second three-run homer in as many games. His 27-game hitting streak is the longest in the majors this season.
In the bottom of the ninth, reliever Pedro Borbon (0-1) got the first two hitters before Jason Kendall doubled into the gap in left-center. La Russa then ordered Brian Giles and Reggie Sanders intentionally walked, moving Kendall to third.
Simon hit an opposite-field single into left field on an 0-2 pitch to win it, with ball eluding a diving Edgar Renteria in the hole at shortstop.
"I thought it had a chance to get through because they were playing me to pull the ball," Simon said. "But with two strikes, I've got to put the ball in play. I'm just glad it worked out for us."
McClendon had switch-hitter Abraham Nunez on his bench, but instead went with the left-handed hitting Simon against the left-handed Borbon. So much for managing by the book.
"What book? I never read that book. It's a good thing I didn't, huh?" McClendon said.
Earlier in the inning, McClendon pulled Craig Wilson, who had homered twice, for defensive replacement Carlos Rivera. Simon subsequently pinch-hit for Rivera.
"That move, in the long run, worked out OK," Wilson said.
La Russa's decision to put the potential winning run only 90 feet from the plate didn't, but he wasn't about to apologize for intentionally walking Giles and Sanders.
"It's tough to take a loss, but I couldn't take one of their big guys beating us," La Russa said. "He [McClendon] made a good move with Simon because he's a guy who will put the ball in play."
The Cardinals trailed 2-0, only to go ahead 4-2 with a four-run sixth keyed by Pujols' 33rd homer and fourth in as many games. Consecutive homers by Wilson and Sanders to start the eighth briefly put the Pirates up 5-4, but Edgar Renteria's RBI single in the ninth tied it at 5 against reliever Julian Tavarez.
The Pirates have been using right-hander Mike Lincoln as their closer, but McClendon, in yet another against-the-book move, stayed with Tavarez (2-3) in the ninth even though he had already pitched two innings.
Pittsburgh trailed 4-3 entering the eighth, but Sanders hit his 25th homer and Wilson his eighth and second of the game in a span of three pitches by Cal Eldred. Eldred came on after reliever Steve Kline retired all four batters he faced.
In the Cardinals' big sixth, Pujols' homer followed Miguel Cairo's RBI double and Eduardo Perez's single. Pirates starter Brian Meadows took a three-hit shutout into the inning, only to leave after allowing five consecutive hits, starting with pinch-hitter Kerry Robinson's single.
Pujols' fly ball initially looked like it might not clear the wall on a muggy, 82-degree night, but just as right fielder Sanders appeared to settle under the ball, it carried several rows into the seats.
Pujols' hitting streak is the Cardinals' longest since Ken Boyer's 29-game streak in 1959. Earlier this season, Kenny Lofton, then of the Pirates, and Nomar Garciaparra of the Red Sox had 26-game streaks.
Pujols probably wishes the Cardinals were making a return trip to Pittsburgh this season. Not only is he hitting .456 against the Pirates this season, he has 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 23 career games in PNC Park.
So far, Pujols has hit an important homer in every Cardinals game this week. His eighth-inning shot Sunday night off the Braves' John Smoltz gave the Cardinals a 3-2 victory, and he followed that with first-inning shots Monday and Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the second against Jeff Fassero on Wilson's first homer of the game. Giles had a run-scoring double in the fifth, and Jeff Reboulet's third straight hit, a double, scored a run in the sixth against Cardinals reliever Esteban Yan.
Notes: Second base umpire Chris Guccione left the game because of dehydration in the third inning. ... Reboulet went 3-for-4 after ending an 0-for-20 slump with a pinch-hit single the previous night. ... Wilson also had a two-homer game against the Giants on Aug. 4, 2002. ... The Pirates must go 27-17 in their final 44 games to avoid an 11th consecutive losing season.