PITTSBURGH -- PNC Park is known for its spectacular views and, as of this week in particular, its boisterous blackout crowd. But it also has its unique aspects inside the playing confines, particularly a left field so spacious it has a nook in left-center, 410 feet away from home plate.
The Cardinals, of course, know all about that, having played there 10 times this season, the 11th being Sunday's Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Pirates.
"I would say if we never played here before it could possibly be a challenge. We have played a significant amount of games," Cards manager Mike Matheny said of PNC's quirky dimensions. "I think it's one of the nicest venues in baseball, especially when you start putting people in it and you've got excitement."
While the Bucs boast two elite speedsters in center fielder Andrew McCutchen and left fielder Starling Marte, for the Cardinals, it's up to Matt Holliday -- known more for power than speed -- to patrol the pasture in left field, with the assistance of center fielder Jon Jay.
Holliday had a memorable play earlier this season that earned him some razzing from the fans in the bleachers in left.
After he showed he could cover the ground back to the 383-foot mark in straightaway left on July 30, Holliday's attempt to snare a McCutchen liner bounced off his glove and into the stands for a homer -- leading to a "Holl-i-day" chant from the stands similar to the business Pirates fans gave Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto in the NL Wild Card Game.
Molina bats cleanup, Kozma starts vs. Liriano
PITTSBURGH -- A near-fixture as the team's five-hole hitter all season, catcher Yadier Molina was placed in the cleanup spot for Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday as the Cardinals went right-handed heavy with the top half of their lineup against Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano.
Manager Mike Matheny bumped left-handed-hitting Matt Adams -- the team's regular cleanup hitter since Allen Craig went down with a foot injury -- behind Molina and David Freese for the afternoon affair. The matchup also prompted Matheny to insert Pete Kozma into the starting lineup for the first time this postseason. Daniel Descalso had been the team's starting shortstop in the first two games against Pittsburgh.
"Today we had to make the adjustment to give us the best chance against a good left handed starter," Matheny said. "Having the ability to put Yadier Molina up in a different spot is a luxury. To us, we have a number of guys we can put in quite a few different roles, and they would fill those roles very effectively. So we feel fortunate to do that, and hopefully it will work out for us."
Molina, though, is still looking for his first hit of the season against Liriano. He went 0-for-6 in Liriano's three dominant starts against St. Louis this season. Of course, success was scarce for any of the Cards' position players.
Only three -- Carlos Beltran (3-for-10), Matt Carpenter (2-for-11) and Matt Holliday (3-for-9) -- had multiple hits off Liriano this season. The team combined for a total of two extra-base hits in Liriano's 24 innings. One of those was off the bat of backup catcher Tony Cruz.
With the Bucs scheduled to start a right-handed pitcher in Game 4 and Game 5, if Wednesday's game is necessary, the Cardinals will likely revert back to the lineup they used in the first two games of the series.
Experienced Cards embrace raucous environment
PITTSBURGH -- Much was made of the electric atmosphere at PNC Park last Tuesday, when the Pirates eliminated the Reds and fans believed they rattled Johnny Cueto in their National League Wild Card Game win. The blackout is back for the NL Division Series. The noise is, too. But the Cardinals don't believe it will be all that different than the environments of postseasons past.
As players talked about preparing for a pair of NLDS games in Pittsburgh, several said they expected the atmosphere to be similar to the ones they faced in the 2011 and 2012 NL Championship Series.
Milwaukee's Miller Park brought the added challenge of playing in an enclosed setting. AT&T Park in San Francisco is rowdy all year long -- and with the visiting bullpen nestled in right-field foul ground, nearly adjacent to the stands, it makes relievers easy targets for harassment.
The Cards anticipated that PNC Park will have a similar feel.
"The atmosphere here is amazing," Shelby Miller said. "They bring a good crowd. It's loud because it's compact. It's a good atmosphere to pitch in. You can't let that stuff get to you, but it gets crazy here. You have the fans all over you, trying to get you. You have to try to stay locked in on the mound."
Playing in hostile environments is something that has been addressed in the Cardinals' clubhouse in recent days. Holdovers from previous playoff clubs have talked to those getting their first taste about how to minimize distractions and channel noise for the positive.
"It's amazing when you hear these guys talk about environments like the one we'll have today, you talk about the intensity like this series is starting to look like," manager Mike Matheny said. "You couldn't help but see that they had a smile on their face. Not all of them always worked out for the best. But just the intensity, just the competition, those sort of things you dream about when you're coming up playing this game. You just hope that you can rise to the occasion."
After years of playing in front of so-so crowds in Pittsburgh, St. Louis did play some key games this season at a packed PNC Park. The Bucs and Cards drew sellout crowds for all three games of their final regular-season matchup in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals went 1-2 in that series. A five-game, four-date series in late July drew an average attendance of 32,406.
"I think what sometimes gets overlooked is players would typically prefer to have a live atmosphere rather than just silence," Matheny said. "And yeah, it's going to be very pro the other team while we're here, but that's still a fun environment to play in. So I encourage them to embrace it and enjoy it, because there are a whole lot of players who have played significant Major League careers that have never had a day like they'll have with the excitement and the energy."
• With an early afternoon workout the only scheduled activity on Saturday's off-day, several members of the Cardinals' organization opted to spend the evening at Consol Energy Center watching an NHL game between the Penguins and Bruins. Among those who attended the hockey game were pitchers Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn.
• The Cards entered Sunday's game having not homered in their last 12 games at PNC Park; that includes all 10 games this season. The last St. Louis player to go deep at PNC Park was Holliday, on Aug. 27, 2012.
• After enjoying ideal weather conditions for the first three games of the NLDS, the Pirates and Cardinals may be at Mother Nature's mercy on Monday. Twenty-four hours out from the scheduled first pitch in Game 4 (2 p.m. CT on TBS), weather.com forecasted a 70 percent chance of rain.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.