In 2008, the St. Louis Cardinals lead the National League in blown saves with 31. In 2009, they began by heading down a path to break that mark.
The Pirates scored four runs in the top of the ninth against newly appointed Cards closer Jason Motte to put the Bucs up, 6-4, and then Buccos bulldog closer Matt Capps shut down the middle of the Cardinals lineup.
The game began with the usual, with some normal Opening Day frivolities. Cardinals legend Stan Musial made an appearance along with King La Russa riding in on his chariot.
Buccos ace Paul Maholm wanted to go out and prove that his 2008 season was for real, and with new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, he was set up quite nicely. The Pirates threated early against Cards starter Adam Wainwright, a guy who the Pirates have had success against. He looked horrific early, with Captain (Nyjer) Morgan depositing a single into left field.
The Buccos quickly loaded the bases, but third baseman Andy LaRoche decided to change that by trying his best to strike out. He fanned on a terrible pitch in the dirt for the K.
Maholm cruised through the first two innings, giving up harmless hits to Albert Pujols and unknown Chris Duncan.
After the Buccos struggled to get anything going against Wainwright in the next few innings, Andy LaRoche again decided to change the game.
"This game is sooo boring! Nothing entertaining here." With Wainwright leading off, he chopped a grounder at LaRoche, who bobbled it and allowed the pitcher to reach.
The error lead to a two-run Cardinal third inning, but Maholm did a terrific job with damage control. Wainwright however, continued to get lucky as he pushed through the Buccos lineup. But the Pirates managed to work his pitch count through the roof.
The Pirates got the two runs back in the top of the sixth. Wainwright turned into a wild man, walking Andy LaRoche and helping advance him to second by walking Brandon Moss too. Nyjer Morgan, who had strangely been money all game, singled them both in. Paul Maholm would draw yet another walk, but a piece of terrible baserunning got him caught in a run-down before Freddy Sanchez could drive him in.
La Russa then made a few changes, going with third baseman David Freese, who knows who he is. He also yanked Wainwright after a decent outing.
Breakout player of 2008 Ryan Ludwick proved he was no joke, blasting a solo shot off Buccos reliever Tyler Yates in the bottom of the eighth. John Grabow would relieve him of his duty when almighty Skip Schumacher stepped in.
Grabow gave up a single to Skip, and then the Cardinals got a second when Freese hit a sacrifice fly to Brandon Moss. Moss attempted to gun down Cards pinch-runner Joe Thurston who was breaking for the plate, but missed by about 15 yards.
Grabow would get Brendan Ryan to harmlessly fly out to end the inning.
And then, "Enter Sandman" plays over the loudspeakers. Top of the ninth, two run lead for the locals, and in comes rookie closer Jason Motte. Motte had a tremendous spring, giving up only two earned runs in 12 appearances. All he had to do was shut down the mighty Pirate lineup for three outs.
Dirty Sanchez doubled to left to start the inning, not a good omen to the Cardinals. Nate "The Great" McLouth, who had been silent most of the game, then struck out for the second time.
Catcher Ryan Doumit, who was 0-for-4, grounded out to second, but advanced Sanchez to third. Two outs, the Cardinals are nearly there. Not so fast, says perennial slow starter Adam LaRoche. He belted a single to Ludwick, and just like that it's a one run game.
Magician and former Ray Eric Hinske came in next, pinch hitting for the punchless Grabow. The wily old vet took no time to blast another double to left field, bringing LaRoche to third. If he wasn't slower than an offensive lineman, the game would have been tied.
Big Play Brandon Moss was up next, but Motte just thought to himself, "You know what, let's put this guy on. I'll send a message pitch to get him from crowdin' the plate, that hog."
Motte would plunk Moss, bases loaded.
Stepping to the plate next was the all-time single-season RBI king, Hack Wilson. Errm, no that'd be Jack Wilson. Wilson, following suit, blasted yet another double to the warning track, clearing the bases. Six runs for the Pirates, four for the Cardinals, and you could hear a pin drop in the standing room only sellout at Busch Stadium.
Ramon Vazquez would fly out to end the inning. Here comes Capps, the most effective closer in baseball before the All-Star break. He would be facing the heart of the Cardinals line: Ankiel, Pujols and Greene. Ankiel calmly grounded out to Sanchez. Pujols then smacked his third hit of the game.
Shortstop Khalil Greene popped up a can of corn for Nate the Great, two down. Capps slammed the door shut when he fanned Ludwick with the inside heat.
Final Score: Pirates 6, Cardinals 4.
John Russell was thrilled, as we'd all imagine.
STARS OF THE GAME
PIT: Nyjer Morgan (3-5, 2 RBI, SB)
STL: Ryan Ludwick (2-5, 2 RBI, R, HR)
PIT: Paul Maholm 54
STL: Adam Wainwright 54
Ian Snell will face Kyle Lohse tomorrow night at 8:15 ET at Busch Stadium. Let's Go Bucs.