Pittsburgh Pirates' Neil Walker follows through on a two-run home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Friday, July 10, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
PITTSBURGH • It could be said that Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker hurt the Cardinals with his bat, his feet and perhaps his brain Friday night. It also could be said that Cardinals starter Lance Lynn hurt himself by pitching behind in the count all night long.
“I felt like I was 2-1 to everybody,” said Lynn. “And when I made a mistake over the middle of the plate, they got a hit.”
One of those situations came in the fourth inning with the Pirates leading 3-2. Lynn ran the count to 3-1 on Walker. The result was Walker’s third career homer against Lynn, a two-run drive that led to a 5-2 Pirates victory that evened this much anticipated four-game series at one game apiece.
“When you’re behind in counts and throwing the ball over the middle of the plate, you’re going to get beat,” said Lynn (6-5), who had had a 1.19 earned run average over his last six starts.
Gerrit Cole, headed to the All-Star Game, gained his 13th win, holding the Cardinals to two runs — Matt Carpenter’s two-run homer in the third — over seven innings. Lynn, who was on an All-Star team three years ago, suffered his quickest hook of the season, lasting just four innings, and he wasn’t happy about being pinch hit for in the fifth.
Now, for Walker’s fancy footwork. He had singled and scored in the first. Then, in the third, running at second base with one out, he jumped, ostensibly trying to get out of the way of a ball hit by Jordy Mercer, which well could have been a double play ball if shortstop Jhonny Peralta had a chance to field it and then run to the bag.
According to the rule, when a runner is hit by a batted ball (Walker was hit in the left ankle), the runner is out but the batter is safe with a hit. Two outs on the play are almost never called, and they weren’t this time, either. This was despite Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s lengthy debate with any umpire who would listen (the play was not reviewable by replay) that Walker had cost the Cardinals a double play.
There was no such tomfoolery in the fourth as Walker extended the lead. Lynn would fan Andrew McCutchen, but then he was done for the night.
“I wasn’t ready to come out, but it’s not my decision,” Lynn said.
“He had trouble finding the strike zone, which isn’t something we’ve seen from him this year,” said Matheny. “That never typically works out well for us.” Lynn threw 86 pitches, 38 of them balls.
Lynn said, “I’ve got to start getting ahead of (Walker) or just start walking him because he seems to have my number or he’s got something on me. So I need to figure it out.”
Matheny did not try to hide his disappointment that the Cardinals didn’t get the benefit of a call that he admitted he never had seen made.
“The way the rule is stated is that if (the runner being hit) is not intentional, then it’s only one out. That’s a tough one to wear,” said Matheny.
“You can’t prove intent. But it certainly was a good spot for Jhonny to be in, to step on the bag and turn two. That saves us a run right there.
“You’d like to see a little more umpires’ discretion on what could have happened there, but that’s a whole lot of guessing. My argument really was there may not have been intent for the ball to hit him, but did he slow down to get in the way of the ball (and shield the fielder), which guys do? If there’s intent in that regard, then that needs to be re-thought.
“That ball wasn’t hit that hard. Typically, when you see a guy get hit, they’re either on the dead run or it’s a missile, and that one was neither. (Walker) was still very close to second base and you’re going to be running. There could have been intent but not necessarily for the ball to hit him.”
With the inning alive, Pedro Alvarez, whose 45 runs knocked in against the Cardinals since the start of the 2012 season are the most of any major leaguer, singled in the go-ahead run.
Second baseman Kolten Wong, who was moving toward second when Mercer’s ball was hit, said “100 percent” the ball would have been a double play.
“It stinks,” said Wong. “Jhonny was right there. It’s catch, tag the bag, throw to first. Umpire discretion — and that’s it. Smart play, I guess. But we should be out of the inning.”
Lynn said, dryly, “It’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to get out of the way. He ran in place for a couple of steps.”
Carpenter, restored to the leadoff spot he had occupied the last couple of seasons and until April 27 this year, found the power he had been missing.
After working a long at-bat in the first inning before grounding out against Cole, Carpenter drilled his first home run since May 24 when he bombed a two-run shot over the center-field wall in the third inning to give the Cardinals a brief 2-1 lead.
Carpenter’s ninth home run followed a double by Tommy Pham, who had been one for 14 on this trip after breaking out in two games last weekend at home following his recall from Class AAA Memphis.
The Pirates had scored one in the first. Mercer, moved up to fifth in the lineup perhaps of his success against Lynn, doubled with two out to score Walker, who had reached on an infield single, a bad-hop job that glanced off Peralta.
McCutchen extended his hitting streak to a career-high 17 games before Mercer, seven for 15 (.467) against Lynn, doubled to right center.
Unlike Walker, Lynn said, Mercer “is a singles hitter. But he seems to get the hit at the right time. From now on, maybe I’ll just walk those two — and worry about the rest of the team.”