PITTSBURGH — This time, the rookie relievers did not come through for the Cardinals. Seth Maness didn’t induce the double play, lefty Kevin Siegrist didn’t retire the lefty hitter like he usually does, and of the three batters Carlos Martinez faced, two ended up scoring.
Their runs made the difference in the 5-3 loss to the Pirates on Sunday afternoon that put the Cardinals one loss from the end of their season.
While the rooks didn’t deliver, don’t say they succumbed to playoff pressure or wilted in front of the madhouse at PNC Park. It was more like they turned in a B performance instead of an A. In a tight Game 3, that was enough to make the difference. Consider how close they came:
Maness entered with one out, the bases loaded and the score tied, and he retired both batters he faced. But instead of coaxing a grounder that could have ended the inning, he left a fastball up just enough for Russell Martin to loft it to center field for a go-ahead sacrifice fly.
“I was trying to get the ground ball,” Maness said. “He got enough on it to get the run in. I failed to do my job.”
After Mr. Postseason, Carlos Beltran, got Maness off the hook with a homer in the eighth inning — the first the Cardinals have hit at PNC Park this season — Mike Matheny turned to Martinez. He promptly gave up a leadoff double to Andrew McCutchen, but then the MVP candidate pulled a base-running blunder and was thrown out trying to advance to third on Justin Morneau’s grounder to short. Martinez didn’t capitalize on the momentum-killer — he walked Marlon Byrd — but only after eight pitches, one of which easily could have been called strike three.
In came Siegrist to face lefty slugger Pedro Alvarez, the NL co-home run champ. In their previous five meetings, Alvarez had struck out twice and not reached base. This time, however, Alvarez was able to ground a 1-2 fastball to right field for an RBI single that put the Pirates in front.
“I thought I made a good pitch,” Siegrist said. “I was hoping to get a ground ball. He found a hole.”
Left in to face the right-handed hitting Martin, Siegrist gave up another single, this one a line drive to left that scored the final run. If either of the 95-mph fastballs missed their locations, it wasn’t by much.
“I looked at (the replay). It was a good piece of hitting,” said Siegrist of Martin’s hit.
This isn’t to make excuses for the rookies. This was the biggest situation any of the three rookies had pitched in, and they lost. But they hardly were overmatched by the Pirates or overwhelmed by a raucous crowd.
“It was different,” Siegrist said of the largest crowd in the 13-year-old park’s history. “I wouldn’t say it bothered me. It was fun.”
Maness admitted the atmosphere was not something he had been a part of before, but he said so with a shrug.
“The playoffs are a lot different. You’re not really prepared for it until you’re actually in that situation,” he said. “Something I’m used to is coming in (late in games). I just didn’t get it done.”
While the youngsters didn’t get it done, the 36-year-old Beltran came through again. And again. Before his 16th postseason homer evened the score in the eighth, his two-out, two-run single off Francisco Liriano tied the game in the fifth. The 2-for-3 performance upped Beltran’s postseason batting average to .360, tops among active players.
A free agent-to-be, Beltran could be down to his final game with the Cardinals. He did not sound very bothered about the possibility as he was among the last of the Cardinals to leave the clubhouse.
“It feels like nothing happened, actually,” Beltran offered. “That’s the atmosphere in the clubhouse. You don’t see people sitting with their heads down. We understand it wasn’t going to be easy. I like it. (Monday) we come here, we win and we’re back home playing them.”
And guess what? In their attempt to send the series back to St. Louis, the Cardinals will turn to yet another rookie, right-hander Michael Wacha, who is set to start (weather permitting) against Charlie Morton. The Cardinals did not sound too concerned about putting their season in the hands of a 22-year-old who will be making just his 10th big-league start.
“His confidence gives us confidence,” third baseman David Freese said.
Whether or not he’s a rookie.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.