Alvarez responded with his single between first and second. Martin then tried to drop down a squeeze bunt to score Byrd from third — he fouled it off, then lined a hit to left that gave Grilli more than enough cushion.
Martin’s sacrifice fly off reliever Seth Maness in the sixth gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead and turned the game over to Pittsburgh’s “Shark Tank” bullpen, one of the keys to the franchise’s first winning season and playoff berth in 21 years.
Tony Watson worked around a one-out single in the seventh before giving way to Melancon in the eighth.
Melancon stepped in capably for a while when Grilli, the All-Star closer, went down with a strained right forearm in July. But Melancon struggled down the stretch and his fourth blown save in the last three weeks came courtesy of Beltran, who knows a thing or two about delivering this time of year.
Pirates starter Francisco Liriano dominated the Cardinals during the regular season, going 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA in his three starts against the NL’s highest-scoring team. He was electric in Pittsburgh’s wild-card win over Cincinnati last Tuesday, shaking off a sinus infection and baffling the Reds with a series of changeups and sliders that ended Cincinnati’s season and manager Dusty Baker’s tenure.
The sharpness that fueled Liriano’s career-reviving year abandoned him after his first trip through the St. Louis lineup. He narrowly escaped the third inning when Matt Holliday lined to right with the bases loaded.
Liriano wasn’t quite as fortunate in the fifth. Jon Jay led off with a single and Pete Kozma followed with a walk. After Joe Kelly struck out trying to bunt, a double steal set up Beltran’s two-run single.
At 2-all, the Cardinals had matched their entire output against Liriano in their previous 28 innings.