St. Louis opened the first game of the National League Division Series with a bang Thursday as the Cardinals blasted the Pirates 9-1 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five playoff series in front of 45,693 fans at Busch Stadium.
“It’s a big deal,” Cardinals’ skipper Mike Matheny said of winning Game 1. “With the crowd into it, (we) had a great crowd. They were watching and they were paying attention and hoping something big would happen in the third. That got pretty exciting for them.
“I know it’s going to be an advantage for just about anybody in their home park right now. We heard a couple of days ago, the life that was in Pittsburgh, and we know it’s going to be that kind of intense situation when we get there. So to be able to get out on a good first step and play well today, I think is big for our guys confidence-wise and also gives us some momentum, and momentum is big right now when you talk about a five-game series.”
Pittsburgh’s A.J. Burnett was unable to get out of the third inning as the Cardinals lit up the Pirates starter for seven runs on three hits, including a three-run homer from Carlos Beltran.
The Redbirds went through the lineup in the third inning, drawing three walks, getting hit by a pitch, collecting a home run and a double. The Cardinals’ first eight batters of the third all reached base.
Adam Wainwright drew a seven-pitch walk, his first walk of the season, and moved to second on Matt Carpenter’s single. Four pitches later, Beltran crushed a Burnett offering 443-feet into the right field second deck for a three-run blast.
“In the first at bat (a ground out), he (Burnett) was pounding me inside with a lot of sinkers,” Beltran said. “In my second at bat I told myself he probably was going to pitch me the same way. You know, he fell behind, and he threw me a sinker that basically he was trying to throw at the front door and it kind of ended up in the middle of the plate, and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
Beltran’s homer was the 15th of his career in the postseason, tying him with Babe Ruth.
Matt Holliday doubled and Matt Adams was hit by a pitch. Yadier Molina then walked to load the bases. Jon Jay followed with another free pass that moved everyone up 90-feet and scored Holliday.
Still with no outs, David Freese showed that he can still hurt the opposition in October as he singled to right scoring Adams and Molina. A bad throw by Marlon Byrd allowed Jay to score and Freese to take second.
Page 2 of 3 - That was it for Burnett (0-1). The Pirates brought in Jeanmar Gomez who ended the Cardinals’ rally by retiring the next three batters.
“All year long we have faced A.J. and he has pitched good games against us,” Beltran said. “Today was a game where he wasn’t locating his pitches. He was falling behind , and we were able to put ourselves in a hitter’s count.”
The seven runs scored by St. Louis in the third set a record for most runs scored in one inning in a National League Division Series inning. The MLB record is eight runs by the Anaheim Angels.
After such a long layoff, Wainwright worked around a pair of two-out singles to record the shutdown inning in the top of the fourth to preserve the 7-0 lead. Andrew McCutchen’s single ended a string of 11 straight batters retired by the Cardinals’ ace.
Wainwright lost the shutout on the first pitch of the fifth when Pedro Alvarez launched a 437-foot solo blast into the right field stands. But, he retired the next three batters, including the final two on strike outs to get out of the fifth without any further damage.
Wainwright joked about the home run, before turning serious.
“First pitch fluttering changeup in the middle of the plate,” Wainwright said. “That’s just me trying to set up his next at bat. I wanted to let him hit a home run.
“No, he’s a very good mistake hitter,” Wainwright continued, “and I threw a – I mean, I think I remember how I described it to Lilly (Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist), it was just a disaster of a pitch to throw there, first pitch especially. He’s very good. That is probably one of the better ones I’ve ever given up. I don’t even know how far it was.”
The Cardinals didn’t limit their scoring to one inning. St. Louis added to its lead with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, both coming off walks and errors.
Jay opened the fifth with a walk, his second of the day, and moved to second on Freese’s single. Danniel Descalso forced Freese at second, but the Cardinals’ third baseman broke up the double play and forced a bad throw to first allowing Jay to score.
Even with not playing much in the season’s final series against the Cubs, Freese was red-hot Thursday. The Cardinals’ third baseman, on base three times, was 2-for-4 with two runs batted in.
“Yeah, those last two days, (we were) trying to give David some rest,” Matheny said. “That’s it. Five days might have seemed like a lot, but today it looked like that was about right. So he physically feels good and we knew his swing was in a good spot too. We didn’t really want him to change anything and he came out today and proved that once again he’s the kind of guy that loves these situations and somehow figures out a way to get it done.”
Page 3 of 3 - With two outs in the sixth, Adams walked and Molina drilled a double to center. When McCutchen misplayed it the Cardinals’ big first baseman motored all the way home from first base.
Every Cardinals’ batter reached base as St. Louis collected nine hits on the day. The only starters not to get a hit were Wainwright, who reached via a walk, and Descalso, who reached on a fielder’s choice.
Freese’s strikeout to open the bottom of the seventh was the first of the day for St. Louis. The Cardinals sent 33 batters to the plate before anyone struck out.
Freese, Molina, and Holliday all had multiple hits for the Cardinals while Adams and Jay each scored twice. Beltran had a game-high three RBIs while Freese finished with a pair.
On the mound, Wainwright (1-0) got the win as he scattered three hits and one run over seven innings of work. The Cardinals’ ace struck out nine before handing the ball over to the bullpen to start the eighth.
“We make no mistake that he is our ace,” Matheny said of Wainwright. “He’s the guy that sets the tone and gives the example of how this goes. … But, what Adam does going out there, what he does in Game 1 right there, and then how he continues to go about it and showing the young guys how to go and that they just stick with their game plan that they’ve done all season long. He wasn’t trying to do anything. He wasn’t trying to be any different than he’s been all season, and it’s been an impressive run for him.”
Carlos Martinez pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and made a dazzling play to record the first out while Trevor Rosenthal allowed just a two-out single to McCutchen before closing the door on Game 1.
The Cardinals will be back on the field this afternoon with a noon start looking to take a two game lead over the Pirates.