PITTSBURGH - Carlos Beltran had struck again.
One of the game's great postseason players clubbed a solo shot in the eighth inning to pull the Cardinals even with the Pirates. Even the black-clad fans who turned PNC Park into a madhouse needed a moment to gasp.
But all season long, the Pirates have rewritten history, and they've shown no intention of stopping anytime soon. They made it clear again Sunday night, taking a 5-3 victory in Game 3 of this National League Division Series only because they pulled together to overcame Beltran's latest heroics.
"We're continuing to surprise a lot of people, I believe,'' said Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, who is hitting .500 in the series. "We're continuing to just show a lot of people we're not done, that we're not just happy to be in the postseason, that we're fighting to win a World Series.''
In the eighth, with the score tied 3-3 on Beltran's homer, Pedro Alvarez punched an RBI single off tough Cardinals lefty Kevin Siegrist that put the Pirates ahead for good. Russell Martin added an insurance run by tomahawking a single to left. And in the ninth, Jason Grilli slammed the door on St. Louis.
The Pirates are one victory away from capturing a postseason series for the first time since the 1979 World Series. To stave off elimination, the Cardinals must get a clutch performance from rookie Michael Wacha in Monday's Game 4, which would force the series back to St. Louis.
Things could have been different for the Cardinals, whose season has reached the brink despite the efforts of Beltran, who twice delivered game-tying hits.
Indeed, it takes a village to overcome such a force. And that's exactly how the Pirates have responded. In the postseason, the Pirates have gotten boosts from Martin (six RBIs), Alvarez (six RBIs) and Marlon Byrd (five RBIs).
"It has a huge impact on us,'' McCutchen said. "We know the pressure is taken off of one person because we know the next guy behind us can pick us up.''
Byrd stepped up first, continuing his magical run with the Pirates since his trade from the Mets in late August. Byrd's two-run single off Joe Kelly in the first inning put the Pirates ahead 2-0, which ignited the sellout crowd.
Beltran responded in the fifth, ripping a two-run single off Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano to tie the score. After Martin gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead by lifting a sacrifice fly in the seventh, Beltran bashed his solo shot in the eighth. It was his 16th postseason homer, breaking a tie with Babe Ruth and giving Beltran seventh place on the all-time list.
The former Mets star is hitting .333 with two homers in this series and has driven in six of the Cardinals' 10 runs.
But Alvarez answered in the eighth, even after McCutchen made a critical error on the bases to squander his leadoff double.
Alvarez has struggled against lefties (.180) this season, and the Cardinals' Siegrist ranked among the toughest southpaws in the National League (.111). But with runners on second and third, none of that seemed to matter when Alvarez ripped the go-ahead single to right.
"The atmosphere, the energy, has been outstanding,'' said Alvarez, who has an RBI in each of the Pirates' four postseason games. "And that's what you dream of, to be able to play these [kind of] games at this time of year. And to do it here, it's just been a lot of fun.''
Indeed, for these Pirates, the fun may just be getting started.