ST. LOUIS -- Clint Hurdle had been contemplating yanking Jonathan Sanchez from his starting rotation in favor of Jeanmar Gomez. He just did not think he would have to do it so soon -- but umpire Tim Timmons gave the move a thumbs up Friday night.
Timmons had a thumb for Hurdle, too, the plate umpire ejecting the manager after he had emerged to object to the ejection of Sanchez for pegging the Cardinals' Allen Craig within minutes -- and 792 feet worth of homers -- of first pitch at Busch Stadium.
Before the end of the Pirates' 9-1 loss on a night that quickly flashed from hopeful to forgettable, the Cardinals added 428 feet to their long-ball yardstick, Timmons added a third exile -- Pittsburgh batting coach Jay Bell -- and the teams may have put in motion a summer of unrest.
Sanchez allowed homers to the first two batters he faced, Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran, then a single to Matt Holliday before hitting Craig in the shoulder, leading to ejections for both the pitcher and Hurdle.
Hours after the extracurriculars, both Sanchez's manager and "target" were able to comment on the events dispassionately. Not even the fact that Pirates players were hit three times during the rest of the game -- including club batting leader Starling Marte twice -- could get a rise out of Hurdle.
"My comments will be made to people that got an ear, and that need to hear them," Hurdle said.
"It doesn't matter," Craig said of whether he sensed intent. "It's not my job to judge intent on stuff like that."
That job is the umpire's, and Timmons did not shirk that responsibility.
"You've got two home runs, and then you've got a line-drive single up the middle, and then the very first pitch is up around the shoulder and head area," Timmons said through a pool reporter. "He threw intentionally at him, and in that area I deemed that intentional, and he's done. Very dangerous."
Sanchez's ejection without retiring anyone certainly crushed Hurdle's hopes of a light night for his stretched bullpen, and it completely brought the Pirates out of their game. Nothing that followed was even remotely similar to the club's play the last two weeks.
The unrewarded hero, a tall one at that, was Gomez. In the emergency, he essentially did what the Pirates had hoped Sanchez could do -- nearly taking the game through five. Gomez went 4 1/3 innings, and he had a clamp on the Cardinals until Beltran completed his 35th two-homer game with a two-run shot in the fifth.
Beltran's first homer had come two batters before a Sanchez pitch bounced off Craig's shoulder..
Timmons immediately waved Sanchez out of the game, as catcher Russell Martin stepped between the glaring Craig and the mound.
"I wanted to get the ball inside, but the ball kept going up. I missed my spot, was all," said Sanchez, calling the ejection the first of his career. "[Timmons] just said, 'It was obvious,' and that was it."
"It happened so fast; that was it," echoed Craig, who at the time quickly lowered his eyes and took his base, while Hurdle took his case to Timmons.
"Timmons thought he was throwing at his head, and we disagreed," Hurdle said. "I have every belief [Sanchez] is trying to pitch in, hard; he missed his spots over the plate, so he's trying to push the hitter back and clips him. Tim didn't see it that way."
So Sanchez was gone -- his ERA rising from 11.12 to 12.71 -- and so were much of the Pirates' hopes of winning a fourth consecutive game for the first time since last July 25-28.
Bell got the heave after Marte was plunked on the right arm -- for the second time -- presumably for asking, loudly, from the dugout why St. Louis starter Lance Lynn was still in the game after the Bucs' hottest hitter had become his first two hit batsmen of the season.
"He wouldn't stop talking," Timmons said of the coach.
Marte brushed off the pitches, saying both were two-seam fastballs and that the Cardinals were trying to pitch him inside all night, presumably excusing a couple of the pitches drifting too far in. Gaby Sanchez was also plunked by reliever Mitchell Boggs in the eighth.
Marte had led off the game with an infield single that remained the Pirates' lone hit until Garrett Jones led off the sixth with a double into the right-field corner. Jones moved around the bases on Neil Walker's grounder and Pedro Alvarez's sacrifice fly.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.