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Sunday’s 19-inning epic between the Pirates and Cardinals felt much like a playoff game.
It involved two division rivals jousting for a playoff berth, neither one willing to go quietly. When Pittsburgh ended an 11-inning scoring drought with a run in the top of the 17th, St. Louis promptly responded with a run of its own to extend the game.
As compelling as such a game can be, it’s not exactly the best thing for a team in a playoff hunt—especially at this point in the season.
Losing such a battle can be demoralizing, but more than that, win or lose, it can be debilitating. Bullpens often take awhile to bounce back from such taxing affairs. And if the schedule isn’t kind, the team as a whole has little chance to catch its breath.
There’s no certainty that either team will falter as a result of this game, though if one does, it’s more likely to be the Pirates.
For one, the Cardinals are defending World Series champions with no shortage of veteran leadership. The Pirates, on the other hand, haven’t produced a winning record in two decades.
Three Pittsburgh relievers pitched at least two innings, and starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez tossed a pair of innings to finish out the game.
And then the team had to board a flight to San Diego after the game for a three-game series starting the next day. They San Diego Padres swept them.
St. Louis, meanwhile, got Monday off, and the bullpen was largely saved by Joe Kelly’s 5-2/3-inning relief appearance.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Kelly, who had just been demoted from the rotation, last pitched five days earlier. So he was effectively still on the same schedule as when he was starting.
If either or both teams come out of that game slumping (the Pirates apparently have), that could derail their playoff aspirations—and eliminate some competition for the Giants.