What we learned: Cardinals kick Pirates to 2017 with dramatic ninth inning

We had grand slams, we had Giancarlo Stanton returning ahead of schedule, we had Ichiro hitting a home run ... and we had two ninth innings to remember.

1. Mets fans are angry with the Pirates right now. The New York Mets had just defeated the Cincinnati Reds 5-3, and with the Pittsburgh Pirates leading the St. Louis Cardinals 6-5 in the ninth inning, it appeared that the Mets would catch the Cardinals in the wild-card race. Then the improbable happened, and the Cardinals essentially buried the Pirates for 2016. Pirates closer Tony Watson recorded the first two outs and had an 0-2 count on pinch hitter Matt Carpenter. He threw a 93 mph sinker that didn't sink, and Carpenter crushed a game-tying home run to right-center. Two batters later, Randal Grichuk put the Cardinals ahead with a two-run home run. Then Jhonny Peralta homered. It was obviously a huge win for the Cardinals, but it was an even more devastating loss for the Pirates. It was their eighth straight defeat, and the two-game swing in the standings left them 5½ games behind the Cardinals in the wild-card race instead of 3½ back.

When the Pirates traded closer Mark Melancon to the Washington Nationals, it was billed as a trade that would bring the Pirates more long-term talent while not affecting their playoff chances. But it has. The Pirates have lost six games they've led after seven innings, and three of those came in the month-plus since they traded Melancon:

  • Aug. 19: Led the Marlins 5-3, but the Marlins scored twice off Felipe Rivero in the eighth and once off Neftali Feliz in the ninth.

  • Aug. 29: Led the Cubs 6-3 (beating up Jake Arrieta), but the Cubs scored twice in the eighth and once in the ninth. The Pirates took the lead in the 13th, but five Cubs in a row reached against Jeff Locke in the bottom of the inning to score two runs.

  • Tuesday: Boom, boom, boom. The Pirates have also lost two games that were tied after seven innings.

Pittsburgh's fade can't be blamed entirely on the bullpen. After all, the Pirates were just 52-49 the day Melancon was traded. They've lost the past four of Gerrit Cole's starts -- 7.06 ERA, .370 average allowed -- and they've been shut out three times in the current losing skid. Kudos to the Cardinals for the clutch ninth inning. That pinch-hit home run was their 15th of the season, a new MLB record. They tied the NL record with a home run in their 25th consecutive game (the Padres also did that earlier this season to match the 1998 Braves). As for the Pirates, see you in 2017.

2. The New York Yankees win, and it will be exciting. It was another wild one at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees scored twice in the seventh to take a 3-2 lead. The Jays scored twice in the eighth. The Yankees then scored four off Jason Grilli, including a two-run home run from Chase Headley. Dellin Betances came on for the save in the ninth but had trouble throwing strikes, and after three walks, two infield singles and 40 pitches, Joe Girardi pulled Betances with one out, the bases loaded and the 7-4 lead down to 7-6. Enter Blake Parker, claimed off waivers from the Mariners in early August, to strike out Kevin Pillar. Then Justin Smoak hits a fly ball deep to left field ...

I won't disagree with Jonah. Which ninth inning do you vote for? Oh, and the Yankees continue to be the pluckiest $222 million team ever constructed.

3. Marwin Gonzalez ices the Klubot. From the department of statistical things that shouldn't happen: The past three seasons, batters hit .100 against Corey Kluber with an 0-2 count, with just three home runs in 310 at-bats. Marwin Gonzalez had hit 32 of his 35 career home runs with the bases empty, and he had hit none with two runners on. Sure enough, Gonzalez hit a three-run home run off Kluber with two on and an 0-2 count to give the Houston Astros an early 3-0 lead. They held on 4-3, as the Indians scored once in the ninth off Ken Giles before he finally closed it out. That's 13 wins in 17 games for the Astros. Kudos as well to A.J. Hinch for the quick hook on spot starter Brad Peacock, who was removed after 3 2/3 innings, even though it was 4-1 with just one runner on. With extra relievers available in a deep bullpen, there was no need to push Peacock.

4. Orioles play Orioles baseball. The Baltimore Orioles hit three more home runs, including a grand slam from Manny Machado, and the bullpen tossed four scoreless innings as the O's beat the Tampa Bay Rays 11-2. Donnie Hart celebrated his 26th birthday with another scoreless inning to run his career MLB numbers to 12 1/3 innings and no runs. Yes, the Orioles have found yet another good reliever (pretty impressive for the sidearming lefty, a 26th-round pick in 2013). More importantly, the Orioles are now just a game behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East.

5. Dansby Swanson recorded the fastest inside-the-park home run of 2016. This is a fun way to hit your first home run in the majors:

Per MLB Statcast, Swanson reached a top speed of 20.6 mph and rounded the bases in 14.97 seconds -- or 56 fewer than it would take Bartolo Colon. All you Bryce Harper haters out there, note who finally recovered the ball in left-center: Jayson Werth, not exactly hustling. The Nationals won, however, by scoring three runs in the eighth for a 9-7 victory.