PITTSBURGH — Cardinals Nation must have been aghast when manager Oliver Marmol posted his lineup for Sunday’s finale of a series the Cardinals had a chance to sweep.
Paul Goldschmidt, second in the National League in hitting at .342 and riding a hitting streak of 14 games, wasn’t in it at all. Platinum Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado didn’t play in the field but was the designated hitter. Even Albert Pujols, the best hitter in the history of PNC Park, wasn’t in the lineup.
Only one of the five reigning Cardinals Gold Glovers was in his normal position, center fielder Harrison Bader. And to further accentuate the seemingly makeshift lineup was the fact that right-hander Angel Rondon, wasn’t on the club officially until an hour before game time. Rondon was in the game after four pitches when starter Steven Matz couldn’t shake left shoulder stiffness.
And so, the final score was 18-4. Cardinals. And this is why Marmol sits in his chair and we sit in ours.
By the end of the fourth inning, every Cardinal in the starting lineup had at least one hit. Pujols relieved Arenado as the DH in the fifth and resumed his PNC ways with his 31st and 32nd career homers here, most as a visiting player, giving him 683 homers in his Hall of Fame career.
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With his drive in the fifth, he has five pinch homers in his career, with his previous pinch homer as a Cardinal coming 13 years ago. Of course, it was at PNC Park, where Pujols is 13th (including Pirates), who have played here.
The Cardinals completed their three-game sweep and raised their record here in the past four years here to 27-5.
But that wasn’t all. Catcher Yadier Molina, with Pujols warming him up, made the first professional pitching appearance of his career in the ninth inning.
Like Pujols before him this season, Molina allowed two homers in the ninth inning, good for four runs.
Though he had a big lead through most of his stint, Rondon pitched as if the game was up for grabs as he gained his first major-league win.
In 86 pitches over five innings, the 2019 organizational minor league pitcher of the year stopped the Pirates on one hit, which came in the first inning. Matz, who was on the list injured twice with shoulder discomfort in both 2016 and 2020, had left without argument in the first after his sinker registered 91 and 92 on the gun, down three or miles from his normal velocity.
Rookie Nolan Gorman, who had a three-hit game in just his third game, doubled in the first inning, scoring Tommy Edman, who had singled through a shift and stolen his 10th base in 11 attempts. But the Cardinals’ threat died here. Arenado flied to deep right, with Gorman tagging up too late. Juan Yepez then struck out and Brendan Donovan flied to short left.
But the Cardinals jumped Pittsburgh starter Bryse Wilson (0-3) for four runs in the second.
Edmundo Sosa singled to right and Corey Dickerson walked before Andrew Knizer struck out. But Harrison Bader, back in the lineup after falling ill on Saturday, grabbed the baton and singled to score Sosa.
Tommy Edman doubled to right to chase in two runners. Gorman, who is five for his first 10 as a big league, singled Edman to third and Edman scored on Arenado’s fly ball to medium right field.
Donovan, facing reliever Tyler Beede, had the Cardinals’ third double in the early innings, with both Gorman and Yepez (walk) coming home to make it a six-run second inning and a 7-0 lead.
The Cardinals tackled on four runs in the fourth after Beede had retired the first two hitters.
Arenado started the ball rolling, snapping a nothing-for-14 slump with a single to left center. Yepez also singled and Donovan singled to score Arenado. After a walk to Sosa, Dickerson singled in two runs and Knizner, the last player to get a hit, drove in the fourth run of the inning with a single.
Though there weren’t as many Gold Glovers on the field, there was defense to be played. Novice second baseman Gorman backhanded a ball in the sixth and started a double play for left-hander TJ McFarland.
The final Cardinals run scored in the eighth when Sosa doubled in Gorman after Donovan had singled, recording his first three-hit game.
Just after Pirates second baseman Josh Van Meter had taken the mound in the ninth, the game was stopped for eight minutes by a rain shower. Upon resumption of play, Bader cracked VanMeter’s first pitch for a two-run homer. A few moments later, Pujols drilled a 1-2 pitch into the left-field seats for the 62nd multi-homer game of his career.
That was the final of the Cardinals’ season-high 20 hits.