PITTSBURGH — Andrew McCutchen swung as hard as he could, the Pittsburgh Pirates star aiming for the seats in right-center field and the two-run homer that would put his team in the NL championship series.
The ball didn’t cooperate. Instead, it floated harmlessly off McCutchen’s bat and into the awaiting glove of St. Louis second baseman Matt Carpenter in shallow center field for the final out in the Cardinals’ 2-1 victory Monday, sending the NL division series to a decisive Game 5.
“I wish it were a little more of the barrel,” McCutchen said. “It would have been a great story.”
It was, just not for the Pirates.
St. Louis rookie Michael Wacha baffled Pittsburgh over 7 1-3 dominant innings, allowing just one hit to help the Cardinals fend off elimination yet again and tie it at 2-all.
The NL Central champions are 7-1 over the last three years with their season on the line. Game 5 is Wednesday in St. Louis.
It’s the kind of resilience the Pirates are trying to build themselves. Baseball’s most surprising playoff team showed during the regular season it could take a punch, shaking off numerous setbacks to win 94 games.
They’ll have to do it one more time if they want to reach the NLCS for the first time in 21 years.
“A lot of the guys in the clubhouse have never even been on a winning team, let alone the playoffs,” Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton said. “I really think it’s not about where we’ve been in terms of overall experience but where we are now. I think we’ve done a great job of that and staying in this thing level headed.”
Pittsburgh will need to rely on it after getting handcuffed by a 22-year-old kid barely a year removed from college. Wacha overwhelmed the Pirates with an expert mix of fastballs and changeups that took some of the buzz out of a record crowd at PNC Park, which started the day chanting Wacha’s name and ended it shuffling out in silence.