The St. Louis Cardinals survived and advanced with a 6-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 5 of the NLDS, but the game was much closer than that final score would suggest. In fact, the Pirates were on the verge of mounting an eighth inning rally when a heavily disputed call by first base umpire Paul Nauert squashed their final reasonable hope.
At that point, Pittsburgh trailed by a manageable 3-1 deficit. A bloop and a blast, as the old saying goes. They got the bloop from pinch-hitter Jordy Mercer. His one-out single off Adam Wainwright flipped the Pirates line up over and brought up lead-off man Starling Marte as the potential tying run. Unfortunately, Marte just couldn't provide the blast. Instead, he hit a line drive to second baseman Matt Carpenter that turned into a disaster.
The sequence developed quickly but seemingly played out in slow motion. Carpenter catches the ball with his momentum taking him toward first base. Then he quickly fires to first baseman Matt Adams in an attempt to double Mercer off. Mercer, who was only a handful steps off first base, scrambles to get back but struggles to make up the short distance.
The result was a bang-bang play that Nauert called in the Cardinals favor without hesitation. But the question quickly became: Was that the correct call, or were we looking at another season-changing blown call against the Pirates just like 2011?
Initially, the general consensus said Nauert missed the call. However, as you'll see in the less-than-ideal screen grab, the ball is clearly in Adams' glove (though it's not entirely closed) with Mercer's toe still appearing to be off the bag.
It's really close. A genuine coin flip. Despite repeated replays and numerous angles, it's impossible to make a conclusive ruling. With that in mind, Nauert deserves the benefit of the doubt. That's not what Pirates fans want to hear right now, but even instant replay wasn't going to get that call overturned.
Jordy Mercer probably deserves the benefit of the doubt, too. The play developed so fast, he never really had a chance to recover. He froze on the line drive as all base runners are taught, it was just hit to an awful spot at the wrong velocity with a fielder positioned perfectly.
Basically, it was textbook St. Louis Cardinals in the postseason. When they need a play to go their way, it almost always works out in their favor. That's not to take anything away from their success, either. You earn your breaks, and the Cardinals always make theirs count.