What a long, strange trip: Cards claim victory in unusual fashion

ST. LOUIS — Look hard enough and you usually will see something at a baseball game you’ve never seen. Well, you didn’t need to look very hard at the Cardinals’ 4-3, 14-inning victory over the Pirates Tuesday night to see something — actually many things — that were highly unusual.
“There was a lot to it, no question,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “That was a big, big win, one of those you felt you had to win somehow.”

Check out some of the rarities:

The Cardinals came back for a victory. For the first time this season, they won a game after trailing by more than two runs. The victory was just their second in the 39 games they have trailed after seven innings.

The Cardinals fell behind 3-0 before their second at-bat until rallying for two in the sixth and tying it in the ninth. That set the stage for recently promoted Adron Chambers to deliver the first walk-off hit by the Cardinals this season as well as the first of his career.

Chambers, who didn’t enter the game until the 10th, hit a single to left that — thanks to a nifty slide — scored Jon Jay from second with one out. Jay reached on a single and — in another rarity for the Cardinals — stole a base to reach second.

“That was amazing getting the game-winning hit,” said Chambers, who lost his jersey in the postgame pileup. “If any one of these guys got that, they would be jumping for joy like I am right now inside.”

Pirates left fielder Starling Marte dropped a routine fly in the ninth that led to an unearned run, the first run closer Mark Melancon had allowed since June 7. If Marte doesn’t settle for trying to make a one-hand catch, Melancon would have had two out and nobody on. But with Daniel Descalso hustling into second on the error, the Cardinals had one on and one out. After a strikeout to Matt Carpenter and a walk to Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig — who else — drove in Descalso with a single to — where else — right.

With the Cardinals out of position players, Cardinals reliever Seth Maness had to bat not once but twice in extra innings, both times with the potential winning run on third and both times against the same reliever, Jeanmar Gomez.

In the 11th, with one out and runners on the corners, the Pirates decided to leave right field open and position right fielder Josh Harrison right behind second base. The shift worked when Maness, the master of inducing double plays, grounded into a 6-9-3 inning-ender.

“They were telling me to go to right field, to try to hit a fly ball to right,” Maness said. “I thought I had that in my repertoire, but obviously I don’t. I was trying to make contact, and struggled to do that.”

Maness was hitting in the cleanup spot because Matt Holliday left the game in the ninth after mildly spraining an ankle trying to get back to first base. The Pirates took advantage of the situation in the 13th after a two-out double by Matt Carpenter.

Knowing the Cardinals were out of position players, manager Clint Hurdle ordered Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig to be intentionally walked to allow Gomez to face Maness. This time, Maness took strike three.

A hastily called defensive shift prevented the Cardinals from scoring in the eighth. The Cardinals had two on and two out with pinch-hitter Matt Adams up. He fell behind 1-2 before sharply fouling a pitch to right. The Pirates then immediately moved back second baseman Neal Walker, already playing deep, into shallow right field. Adams promptly drilled a line drive right at Walker to end the inning and keep the Pirates up by one.
It took 25 starts, but Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright walked three batters in a game for the first time this season. Unlike last weekend when the Cubs scored repeatedly after being walked, none of Wainwright’s free passes would hurt. Still, the tall right-hander, working on three days’ extra rest, was not at his sharpest.

Wainwright retired leadoff hitter Marte on the first pitch of the night but then needed 32 more to get through the first inning. After giving up a single to Neal Walker, he got ahead of Andrew McCutchen 0-2 but left a cutter up and the Pirates’ MVP candidate smacked it in the right-field seats. Wainwright, who had allowed only eight homers coming in, left another cutter up in the second that Jordy Mercer hit over the left-field fence.

But with his pitch count already over 50 going into the third, Wainwright battled through the next five innings without allowing another run.
“Probably the gutsiest performance we’ve had all year,” Matheny said. “We would have been in bad shape if he wouldn’t have been able to get it back under control.”

The victory cut the Pirates’ lead in the NL Central to two games over the Cardinals with two more to play in the series. The dramatic victory was the kind that could snap the Cardinals out of a funk that had seen them lose 13 of their previous 18 games.

“It could be,” Wainwright said. “That’s how we’re going to look at it.”

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.