Wilson, Pirates stun Cards in ninth
Three-run double caps Opening Day comeback win
ST. LOUIS -- Shortstop Jack Wilson raised his hands just slightly, and with it, spoiled the Cardinals' attempts to potentially christen a new closer and seal a home opener win on Monday.
With the Pirates down to their final out, and Wilson looking at his final strike, he turned a 96-mph fastball from Cardinals closer du jour Jason Motte, into a bases-clearing double. It capped a four-run ninth for the Pirates to erase a two-run deficit, much to the dismay of those in the crowd of 45,832, who remained despite the cold, blistery conditions.
"Just a great start," first baseman Adam LaRoche said of the 6-4 win at Busch Stadium. "We said in spring that we have to get used to playing a lot of games like this."
Monday's come-from-behind victory sealed the Pirates' third consecutive Opening Day win, all of which have come in the team's final at-bat.
While Wilson contributed the game-changing hit, the Pirates' final-inning rally was truly a team affair. The Cardinals had broken a 2-2 tie one inning earlier, but there was still the pervasive sense that this one wasn't quite over.
Part of that was a byproduct of all the comeback wins the Pirates had last season and during this year's Spring Training. But the fact that the Cardinals entered the season without a defined closer also seemed to leave the door slightly open.
Motte, with only 12 Major League appearances to his name, was as close a closer as manager Tony La Russa had, and received the call to seal the win. He couldn't.
Motte came out throwing consistently in the mid-90s, but the Pirates read that fastball well and had little trouble hitting it. As LaRoche aptly put it: "You can throw 97, but if you're not spotting it up good, then it's probably going to get hit a little bit."
LaRoche did just that, connecting for a two-out RBI single to close the deficit. It was one of two hits that LaRoche, notorious for his slow April starts, had in the game. Pinch-hitter Eric Hinske then doubled, and Brandon Moss loaded the bases when he was hit by a pitch.
That brought up Wilson, who lugged with him an 0-for-4 day. But he knew what had to change.
"The first four at-bats I didn't feel real comfortable with it," Wilson said of his lower hand positioning, an adjustment that he made during Spring Training. "I wanted to go kind of in between where I was and where I am now to find something comfortable and put the wood on the ball."
Wilson did just that, inching his hands up, hopeful that the adjustment would keep him from undercutting the ball as he had all afternoon. He fouled off a first-pitch fastball from Motte, and then another, putting himself into a quick 0-2 hole.
"The second one I fouled off ... I felt like I was on it," Wilson said. "I said, 'OK, if I get another heater, then let's put some good wood on it and see what happens.'"
Wilson got a third fastball and laced it into the gap in left-center field. All three runners scored, and with it, the Pirates had their first lead of the game.
"Tomorrow, [hitting coach Don Long] will probably ask me why I did that," Wilson joked of changing his hand positioning. "I was able to make an adjustment enough to help us win.
"We're a team that never gives up. We take a lot of pride in that if we lose, it's going to be a battle. Today was an example. The best part is that we came up on top."
Wilson's hit bailed out Tyler Yates, who, in relief of starter Paul Maholm, was in line to take the loss after giving up two runs in the eighth. As for Maholm, he was left to credit the offense on a day in which he battled admirably despite not having pinpoint command.
Maholm, efficient as usual, had his only notable struggles in the third, though not all a result of his own doing. An error by Pirates third baseman Andy LaRoche, one of two he made on the day, opened the door for the Cardinals' two-run inning.
After Redbirds starter Adam Wainwright reached on the error, three of the next four St. Louis hitters singled, with two runs scoring. Maholm eventually induced an inning-ending double play to end the rally and was charged with only one earned run.
"I think in that inning, everything was up a little more than it should have been," Maholm said. "Then we started mixing in breaking balls and throwing in a little bit more, and I got into a better groove and got some ground balls."
Maholm then coasted until a hit batsman and an intentional walk with two outs in the seventh ended his day. He exited with the game notched at 2, courtesy of Nyjer Morgan's two-run single an inning earlier.
La Russa had played the odds by calling lefty reliever Trever Miller in from the bullpen to face Morgan after the Pirates drew three walks to load the bases with two outs in the sixth. That included a five-pitch free pass to Maholm, who ended up reaching base in all three of his plate appearances.
Despite having the right-handed-hitting Craig Monroe on the bench as an intriguing pinch-hitter, Russell stuck with Morgan, who already had two hits in the game.
"Nyjer had done some good things during the day and looked like he was swinging the bat pretty well," Russell later explained. "We didn't want to start digging deep into our bench in the sixth inning."
Morgan responded with the two-run bloop single.
"That's my job -- to get on base and start the fire," Morgan said. "And after that, they started waking up and things just started falling right."
Just in time.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.