The magic ran out for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday as the St. Louis Cardinals used excellent pitching, defense and power to advance to the National League Championship Series with a 6-1 victory in Game 5 of the NLDS.
The Pirates were done in by more than just bad luck, but the randomness of baseball was certainly a factor, especially early in the game, when employment of a shift turned into a key double play:
Matt Carpenter was in the right place at the right time while Marlon Byrd apparently paid no attention to the fact that the Cards were correctly playing Pedro Alvarez to pull. In a scoreless game in its early stages, that play was instrumental.
In typical Cardinals fashion, they immediately took advantage. David Freese, who was 2-for-13 at the plate in the first four games of the series, launched his seventh career postseason home run to give St. Louis a two-run advantage:
After that, defense took over. Perhaps playing with a touch of desperation, Pirates left fielder Starling Marte took a chance on a sinking liner off the bat of Carpenter and made a phenomenal play:
If Marte doesn't come up with that ball, Carpenter is probably standing on third base. Instead, the second baseman's slump extended to 1-for-17 in the series.
Naturally, the Cardinals answered -- first, on this diving grab by Pete Kozma, then on this rangy play on a ground ball by that same slick-fielding shortstop:
After the Cardinals extended their lead to 3-0 in the sixth, the Pirates were finally able to string a few knocks together, though all of them were infield singles, capped off by this wacky bouncing ball hit by Pedro Alvarez:
Shifting against Pedro Alvarez paid off yet again. Though the Cards didn't get an out on the play, Carpenter was in position to nab the ball before it traveled down the right field line, which likely would have resulted in another run for the Pirates.
Carpenter wasn't shifted toward first base here, but floated that way to catch Starling Marte's line drive and again double up the Pirates:
The Pirates argued vehemently that Jordy Mercer should have been called safe upon sliding back to first base. You make the call:
Regardless of how the play should have went, Matt Adams ensured it really didn't matter with this moonshot in the eighth inning, essentially sealing the Pirates' fate:
Adams received a curtain call, and Adam Wainwright went on to keep the Pirates scoreless in the top of the ninth, sending the Cardinals to their eighth NLCS in the past 14 seasons.