Thanks to Garrett Jones and a rare failure by the Cardinals‘ Ryan Franklin, the Pittsburgh Pirates must wait at least a day to set one of the most unwanted records in pro sports.
Jones hit a game-ending RBI single to cap a two-run rally in the ninth inning against one of the majors’ top closers and the Pirates ended a nine-game losing streak, beating St. Louis 6-5 Sunday.
The Pirates won after falling behind 5-4 on Rick Ankiel‘s pinch-hit homer off Jesse Chavez (1-4) in the top of the ninth. By rallying, they postponed becoming the first team in any of the four major American pro team sports – major league baseball, the NFL, NBA or NFL – to have 17 consecutive losing seasons.
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This current mix of prospects and lower-paid players has been responsible for only a handful of the 1,500 losses the Pirates have absorbed since 1993, and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said this team is playing like it doesn’t want the streak to last much longer.
“We’ve been there … They’re young and they’re hungry, and they’re all playing to be here next year,” reliever Trever Miller said of the Pirates, who have dealt five everyday players since opening day.
Not that the Cardinals accepted losing for only the third time in 14 games. Especially the way they lost, with a lead and Franklin on the mound in the ninth.
Franklin (2-2) gave up singles to Jason Jaramillo, Andrew McCutchen and pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit in a span of four batters, although Jaramillo was forced at second on a failed sacrifice.
The left-handed Miller came in to face the lefty-hitting Jones with runners on first and second and one out, and the rookie hit a line drive between left fielder Ankiel and center fielder Colby Rasmus for the Pirates‘ first victory since beating the Phillies 3-2 on Aug. 27.
Jones, a Pirates find who was previously stuck in Minnesota’s farm system, leads NL rookies with 18 homers but wasn’t looking to drive the ball.
“I was trying to take a nice, short swing and hit a line drive and just get a pitch to hit,” said Jones, who is hitting .308. “It worked out, I hit it decently and it started tailing away.”
Franklin had converted his previous 13 save opportunities and 37 of 39 overall.
“He’s been out there a lot, I think his stuff was not quite as sharp – he had to locate perfectly and they stayed on the ball nice,” La Russa said. “We’ll be careful in the Milwaukee series (that starts Monday) about how we use him.”
The Cardinals lost for only the sixth time in 28 games since taking control of the NL Central on Aug. 7. They still lead the Cubs by 11 1/2 games.
“We’re looking forward to playing playoff baseball,” Miller said. “We just got to get there. That was frustrating right there, you don’t ever want to have a hiccup game like that.”
The game began with a misplay that epitomized all that’s gone wrong with a Pirates franchise that, for its first 100 seasons of existence, was one of baseball’s most consistent winners.
With Julio Lugo on third after his leadoff double and a sacrifice, catcher Jaramillo’s throw back to the mound following a pitch to Albert Pujols sailed far over Paul Maholm‘s head for an error that scored Lugo.
St. Louis later took a 4-1 lead on Yadier Molina‘s RBI single in the fourth and run-scoring singles by Pujols and Ryan Ludwick in the fifth. Pujols drove in five runs during a series in which he hit a three-run homer during a 14-7 win Friday and a decisive pinch-hit drive in the 10th inning of a 2-1 victory on Saturday.
The Pirates tied it with a three-run sixth against Joel Pineiro, who failed to win his ninth consecutive decision. He gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings. Brandon Moss doubled ahead of Ronny Cedeno‘s two-run single and Jaramillo’s run-scoring single.
The Cardinals had won Pineiro’s last 11 starts. … The Pirates also avoided being mathematically eliminated in the NL Central. … Pujols, who had three hits, batted .463 against Pittsburgh with five homers and 16 RBIs. St. Louis won the season series 10-5. … Pirates 3B Neil Walker singled in the eighth for his first major league hit. Chavez also gained his first victory.